A Christmas Gift, Undeserved and Beautiful: Reflection from SGIS Lessons and Carols

(Photograph from The Altria Theater)
(The Altria Theater, formerly known as The Mosque. Photograph from The Altria Theater)

[I gave the following talk as part of the St. George’s Independent School Service of Lessons and Carols yesterday. The service included students from each of our three campuses and from the second through twelfth grades. Additionally, we had participation from a recent graduate who read one of the lessons. It was a simple and lovely service.]

Merry Christmas! It is a pleasure to gather here for this purpose this evening.

When I was in third grade, I was in the St. Christopher’s Lower School Choir, and our big moment of the year was singing at the Richmond Ballet’s and the Richmond’s Symphony’s Production of The Nutcracker. Mr. Munson, our choir director, somehow managed to pull a distractible group of little boys into some sort of generally cohesive group. The weather on the day of the late afternoon show was gray and cold pre-Christmas December, so our mothers had bundled us up so completely that our movement was limited as we pretended to be astronauts walking on the surface of the moon toward the stage door of the theater, at that time called The Mosque. The Mosque, now renamed The Altria Theater, is like a larger version of The Orpheum here in Memphis.

I remember flashes of many things—coming in the stage door and down a dark hallway, continuing by the Orchestra Pit where musicians uncased and tuned their instruments, then up flights of stairs and a red-carpeted hallway to our position. I also remember scanning all the motion of people finding their rows, greeting each other, and at last I remember spotting my parents and sister settling into their seats below. As a member of the choir and thus a part, however small, of the production, I had a powerful feeling of being a part of something huge, of getting to see behind the curtain to where something amazing was going to happen.

Squirming in red St. Christopher’s School V-neck sweaters and neckties before the lights went down, we arranged ourselves in the side balcony, where we could see not only the symphony’s conductor, but also everyone below in the audience. Additionally, our view provided us with an excellent view of stage where soon Clara would see her world transformed by a gift.

(Photograph from The Altria Theater)
(Photograph from The Altria Theater)

For our purposes this evening here in our “Lessons and Carols” celebration of the season, the holiday season, the Christmas Season, imagine we were that night long ago in Richmond, Virginia the best choir ever to sing for the “Dance of the Snowflakes.”  We certainly thought we were. Afterward the Symphony’s conductor told us what a nice job we had done. He was particularly happy (hear: relieved) that we had stood up in unison and begun to sing on cue. All of our parents told us how nice we looked, how well we sang. In my mind, Tchaikovsky himself would have praised the near perfection of our contribution. Aglow from our success, we basked in the applause after hurrying down to receive our accolades: “Such nice boys…so well behaved…such strong voices.”

[Go to the 2:06 mark to hear the chorus sound the way we were supposed to sound]

Once we returned to gather our coats and mittens and wound our way back across the stage and though the mystery that is the backstage of all good theaters, we emerged out the stage door, as if we had slipped back through a veil into the world we left behind a couple of hours earlier.

But we were startled to find that the world transformed in our absence. The streetlights and car headlights lit up a new world of soft, big flake snow already fast to the sidewalks. The roads too, no matter how numerous the cars were edging down Main, or Laurel, or Franklin Street, were quickly disappearing beneath it. Walking across from Monroe Park in front of The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the crowd was laughing, loud and happy to be huddled together under umbrellas or sweeping the ground with the side of their hands to see if the consistency was right for snowballs. The surprise of it, the lack of its forecast, made the scene all the more joyous, for the world had been remade in only the time it takes to follow the familiar story of Clara and the Prince through The Pine Forest and onto to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy. This early snow was a gift, undeserved and beautiful. To my mind it was as if The Nutcracker itself had made all this happen—it was magic.

More importantly, most importantly, it was Christmas. If anyone had failed to recognize its coming, they couldn’t miss it now. For Christmas is a gift, undeserved and beautiful as well.

So…at last…thank you to all of our participants this evening—you have deepened the meaning of the season for all of us. And to all gathered here, I cannot promise you snow when we open those doors at the back of this chapel in a moment, but I can promise you this: the gift of Christmas is coming like a wonderful surprise snowstorm to transform our world. Be joyful and be glad in it.

Merry Christmas! Thank you.


One thought on “A Christmas Gift, Undeserved and Beautiful: Reflection from SGIS Lessons and Carols

  1. Margaret Peters December 12, 2016 / 9:12 am

    How beautiful! And how special that you recall it so clearly. So seldom does life offer such a memory. Incidentally, check the New Yorker on line for its special articles about Bob Dylan’s Novel prize award ceremony. David Remnick’s short piece is especially stirring. Have a good week.

    Love, Mom

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