Sunday, December 17, 2006

Advent, Week 3: Sunday

Recommended readings from the third Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Here I sit, at the church office computer, in a very unusual situation. I have virtually nothing I have to do this morning except lead an opening and a closing hymn. No choir to rehearse and lead. No scurrying about, looking for misplaced robes and hijacked music folders. No spot checks and chancel furniture adjustments.

Why the "vacation"? Because our church's liturgical dance/movement group is presenting the Christmas story this morning. I could pick about it here and there (they use only canned music, it's generally the same music and choreography year to year), but such criticisms are minor. The group is girls from first through twelfth grade. Though the majority are members/daughters of members of the congregation, a significant number come from unchurched families. Because our sanctuary is relatively small and therefore does not lend itself to conventional liturgical dance per se, many years ago the group leaders developed a blend of more static movement and American Sign Language. They dress in long-sleeved, full skirted (mid-calf length) white dresses (lavender for first-year girls) with white tights and ballet shoes, and have a variety of floral garlands they wear on their heads. For this production, as for the one they do each year for the Easter sunrise service, however, various girls dress as their assigned characters, while the "chorus" full group wears their usual white/lavender. (I say all this to assure any readers who object to liturgical dance because they don't like bare arms, legs and feet; our girls are completely covered except for hands, necks, and heads. And if you object to liturgical dance on other grounds, we'll have to agree to disagree.)

How does their pending presentation this morning relate to this week's Lectionary readings? I think of this verse from the Psalm lesson (First Song of Isaiah):

And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. (Isaiah 12:4, NRSV)

The girls are "making known the deeds of the LORD" in a beautiful, meaningful way. We Christians read and hear the "old, old story" so often that we sometimes take it for granted. But when we witness it told in a new way, it's startlingly real to us.

I also think about the experience of the children themselves. They will know and treasure the story of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the rest of their lives, thanks to this group's seasonal reenactments of those portions of the gospel story. That makes worthwhile all the hard work the girls and their leaders do. We promise, when children are baptized, that we will nurture and teach them so that, in time and with God's help, they accept for themselves the salvation God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 12:6, NRSV)

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