Community in music
A couple weeks ago I was asked to serve as a parent chaperone prior to a grade six middle school band, strings, and choral concert. I was assigned various duties but eventually was told, “We could use some help in the band room to be honest.” The band is the largest and there were 65 kids. At one point the band teacher instructed the kids to all get out their instruments to tune them and warm up. There is nothing to prepare you for 65 kids playing every brass and woodwind instrument forte for a couple minutes if you haven’t already experienced this. There is a foreboding element to this fitting with the apocalyptic theme that runs through Advent. All you know is that the world is about to turn.
And yet when the cacophony of sound dies down, the students file into the gymnasium for the performance and take their seats something else emerges. Something beautiful takes shape when students are attuned to one another and the director. Most of these students picked up their instruments for the first time four months ago in September. While it’s encouraging listening to an individual student rehearse, seeing the music they produce together. The pride that exudes from the students and teacher is immense. And this joy of music is produced in community.
Elizabeth and Mary
In our gospel reading we meet Elizabeth and Mary gathering in community. Elizabeth and Mary are cousins and are both pregnant and there is something actively creative they are both bringing forth into the world. Often pregnancy is described by men as something passive. Women know there is nothing passive about carrying a child and delivering a baby. We also recognize people who struggle with pregnancy, there is nothing routine about it. While Mary is often considered to be a teenager, Elizabeth we are told is of old age and it is incredible she is pregnant with John the Baptist. Meanwhile Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah cannot speak because he didn’t believe the angel when told that his wife is pregnant. Joseph mostly has a non-speaking role and not that central to the Advent and Christmas stories. It is two women, Elizabeth and Mary who are the ones gathering in community and know the kind of world turning God has in store through the children they are bringing into the world.
Mary has perhaps the greatest poem and soliloquy in the whole New Testament, the words of the Magnificat used in nearly every evening prayer setting. Mary describes in detail a dramatic reversal through which God has lifted her up as one otherwise thought to be lowly, to become the one bringing the Messiah into the world. And not only through the active role of birth, but Mary is given these prophetic words. Collective liberation for all people is revealed through her. Liberation from poverty and suffering. Liberation from hunger. Liberation from powerlessness. Mary foretells a dramatic reversal of worldly power and invites us into God’s creative world turning.
Already but not yet
One struggle we have is that what scripture promises doesn’t always line up with reality. It sounds great that there is this dramatic reversal revealed by a pregnant teenage girl, but sometimes we wonder when it’s coming. One way to think about it is through the phrase “already but not yet.” God’s world turning is already here. The prophecy is long revealed through Mary and we see glimpses of it. And yet the world turning is not fully here. Consider the Advent theme of waiting, trusting in the glimpses of God’s love at work in our lives, knowing there is more to come.
It’s hard to hold the already and not yet in tension at times. Especially when we’re struggling through a pandemic and climate crisis, it’s hard to know or trust when and if this world turning is taking place. And yet we see glimpses of it. We see everyday people showing empathy during tough times. Healthcare workers working another long shift taking care of patients. Water and land defenders standing up for their sovereignty every time the government decides its more lucrative to sell resources to the highest bidder. Already the Creator’s world turning is here. And yet we desire to experience more of it. We yearn for the reversal which Mary reveals to come quicker.
Strength in community
Thinking about the school band story from earlier. It’s about finding strength in community. So too we are offering that to one another in church. Quite literally as we join voices through musicians, the choir, congregational singing, and all those joining at home, we are united in song and praise together. We come together to lift up refugees, neighbours experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. We care for creation and one another. Consider all the people calling to check in on people who are lonely or homebound. The Advent bags and gifts for women at Harrison Place. All these different ways God is working through us.
Some of us experienced this through the joy of putting up the Christmas tree (twice even). Putting up Christmas lights. Hanging decorations with kids safely using the ladders with assistance. When the kids saw the hand candles for Advent vespers they asked whether they too could stay. Some of them received a crash course on livestreaming, helping check sound levels, even helping advance the slides for the song texts. There was a lot of joy in what is otherwise a busy time or too quiet of a time depending on life circumstances.
Where we find ourselves
At times we experience these moments of joy in community. Other times we feel a tendency to retreat. Rather than reaching out, which has been harder to do in recent months, we find ourselves turning inwards. That can be a natural instinct of self-preservation to seek shelter when we are asked to socially distance. However I notice in myself as well, when I’m going through an especially hard time there is a danger of retreat inwards that becomes unhealthy. It becomes a form of cutting ourselves off from community. And it can be for a variety of reasons. When we don’t feel good we tend to have less energy and it’s easier to disengage. The trouble with disengaging too much is that it can lead to depression. It also cuts us off from God’s gift of community.
And it’s not about people with real health concerns who choose to joining worship and programming online. Online worship is still real community. It’s an active commitment. I think more about when we see friends struggling and they stop responding to our texts and e-mails. Rather than a quick response like before we’re not hearing back for a week if at all. I have some folks like this in my life and it’s hard to watch them struggle from afar. Not being able to travel easily doesn’t help.
I know it’s not easy. And yet sometimes we need to allow others to care for us. It doesn’t mean we have to feel good or pretend we are not hurting. But rather to remain in community, especially when we need it most.
This is where as church we have been blessed with the gift of community. Mary and Elizabeth are sounding the trumpet, that God’s love is already here. The world turning is already happening. This news gives us courage. And when we lack that courage individually, we trust by faith in the courage of the collective. It takes the whole body of Christ to lift one another up.
Wrapping up, think about what part of being in community gives you life. What gets you up in the morning? What gives you energy? It can be just one thing. Think about a way you can keep doing that each week, even for a short time. Maybe it’s even something you’re already doing at Church of the Cross and want to keep doing it, something you’ve thought about joining, or something you feel called to begin. Each one of us is invited to join our voices in the divine choir. Each of us is participating in God’s world turning, making life a little better for our neighbours.
If you’re struggling remember that as community we are here lifting you up. Reach out and let us know if you need some extra support during thought times. Know that God loves you and that you are enough. Amen.