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Saturday, December 24, 2011
A Different Kind of Christmas Song
For 23 years, this song has been as much a part of my Christmas as any of the classic carols.
Christmas Eve at my church probably shares much in common with the service at other UU churches: It is, first of all, an amalgam that blends the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, and the Christmas Story itself into one grand festival of light. Yet even with that characteristically Unitarian Universalist syncretism, it is one time (not the only one necessarily) when we happily read familiar tales from the Bible and without apology invoke the names of God and Jesus.
Most years, our minister takes the pulpit in the guise of one who was there on that Bethlehem night of legend 2,000 years ago. He's been a shepherd, one of the Magi, Jesus's cousin John, an angel, and, I think, even the innkeeper. Some roles he's played more than once. In 1990, as American troops gathered in Kuwait to launch the invasion that would become the First Gulf War, he spoke as a Roman centurion. And in whatever persona he adopts to retell the story, I find myself moved beyond measure, my eyes welling with tears of comfort.
Tonight, he was Joseph. (In case you were wondering, he firmly pointed out that he was Jesus's real father -- despite the stories that later made it into the Bible.) He told of how much he learned to be a parent from his son, and how hearing not only the local shepherds, but even visiting astrologers from afar, speak of the promise that the infant represented made him see his own child differently -- an attitude that he recommended to parents everywhere.
When the message is over, and after we sing "Silent Night" with the traditional words, then comes another musical tradition. For reasons that I don't really know, we always close the service with a song that doesn't mention Christmas anywhere in its lyrics, a song sung by a little green frog with a banjo and a nasal voice.
It was an odd touch, I thought, the first time I experienced it more than two decades ago -- odd, and yet somehow perfect in its reflection of the hope and mystery and promise of Christmas. Now I have trouble imagining the night before Christmas without it.
When the older DairyStateKid was less than 6 months old, I began singing it to him every night as a lullaby. And the tradition continued when his younger brother came along five years later.
Tonight, we all went to church: The two DairyStateKids, their stepmother DairyStateMom, the older DSK's Buddhist girlfriend, and me. We heard the stories, basked in the warmth of the candlelight, sang the old familiar carols, and then joined together in this song.
Later, as he lay in bed in the darkness of his room waiting for the sleep that will bring Christmas Morning, the younger DairyStateKid, who will be 15 in one month, asked me to sing the first verse one more time. Of course I did.