This year is not like every other year, when we would pile in the car and wind our way north to St. Clare’s Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor for the annual Messiah Community Sing. At the center of the circular sanctuary, a volunteer ensemble would just be winding up their rehearsal as the crowd was admitted entrance, dog-eared choral manuscripts in hand, and made way to their respective sections: soprano, tenor, bass, and alto. When the kids were little we would generally slip out midway, to make the event more enjoyable for everyone. But gradually they came to recognize the familiar arias, eager to make it to the finish line and the smorgasbord of sweets that awaited good little children who made it all the way to “AL-Le-Lu-YAH!”
This year, as I said, is different. Mom is tucked away in her group home, which is buttoned down with COVID restrictions. Sarah is spending the holiday with her birth parents. The rest of us (including all three dogs) are hunkered down at the cabin in East Jordan, looking through the frosty woods and craning our necks to see Lake Charlevoix. Chris is watching Lord of the Rings. We just finished watching the video we made for Craig’s mom for her Christmas gift — pleased that we thought of something to give the lady who has everything she wants. Everything but us — this year there won’t be any ocean views. And yet, so much for which to be thankful. Up to and including the fact that I managed to snag the last three seats at Christmas Eve Mass tomorrow. Yeah, me.
This year the familiar chorus from the book of Malachi takes on new and somber tones, as the prophet cries like a voice in the wilderness: “and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.”
Generation after generation, we read of the painful purification of this priestly tribe of Levi, and think of the chastening God sends upon those marked for service. Including not just priests and church leaders, but all of us who name the name of Jesus. We have been stripped, our hearts laid bare and lives reduced to their simplest terms, so that we might be reminded of the things that matter most. So we might hear the words of the prophets calling us to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the land with doom.”
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. Your servants are listening.