(Thinking about Advent 2)
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and
the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger
of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the
LORD of hosts.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he
appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify
the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until
they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. (Malachi 3:1-4, NRSV)
I used to stand next to Mrs. Buckley in the choir loft at Court Street Baptist Church. There are many pieces of music I will always hear in her gorgeous alto, and the solos in Handel's Messiah are among them. I was a high school freshman and then a sophomore. We had a crowd of high school students in the choir then, I suppose because she was their school choral director, and perhaps because her own daughter was in high school then, too. We swelled the ranks of the choir–how happily for the choir I do not know–and we learned good music. So much Handel I learned standing at her elbow, and although I played the piano, I did not have the sight-singing skills to get the parts easily. I leaned on her.
From the balcony, she sang every year during the Christmas Pageant. Her magnificent tones filled the sanctuary with "The Birthday of a King."
Oh, I admired her.
And I learned from her, qualities of kindness and love and patience, as well as musicianship. I learned friendship as I watched her with her friend, Mrs. Kersey, the minister's wife.
That part of my childhood and youth feels almost mythological, and I have lived far enough away for long enough that it hardly seems it could have been real, particularly the Christmas Pageant which in memory is gorgeous beyond what could have been possible. Ask my family, they've heard the stories over and over again, of the choirs, including the little children, processing to "O,Come, All Ye Faithful," electric candles in hand; of the solo I sang at 12 and the time I almost fainted while garbed as an angel; of my disappointment that we moved to Williamsburg before I got old enough to be Mary. Every pageant I write or direct or observe I hope will hold some fraction of the wonder that pageant held for me.
Mrs. Buckley has gone on ahead, to what I hope is a beautifully musical beyond. The dark Sunday afternoons I listened to her in the balcony, the wonder evoked by her voice, are all far in the past.
I have wondered if the people who were so much a part of my life would remember me, or if they did what they would think of hearing I became a pastor. How have I been refined? Am I what they would have imagined?
Today I found my same-birthday friend, the minister's son, on Facebook, and he sent me a message, glad to hear from me. He tells me one of our old friends mentions my name frequently around the Pageant. And he signs off with a 🙂