Monday, December 18, 2017

A New Riff on an Old Tune

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 2nd Chapter

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

God’s like a jazz musician… No, God IS a jazz musician because that night… that first Christmas night, God improvised an unforgettable riff on God’s oldest, most soulful, most wonderful tune.  On THAT night… that first Christmas night, God became truly human… and THAT was a brand new riff… AND yet, at the same time, it had at it's core a tune as old as God.  

Count Basie once said, “The real innovators do their innovating by just being themselves.”  That first Christmas night, God was innovating just by being God’s own self.  That night it WAS brand new… never been done before… it was light shining in darkness with the birth of the Christ child.  It was also God being true to God’s own self… playing the same song of love and grace, light and life that God’s been playing since before time began.

Louis Armstrong once said, “What we play is life.”  Christmas is God playing a song that brings life into the world… and not just a get-by sort of life either, but an abundant life… a life full of meaning and substance and purpose… a life given to us in that Christ child.  God had never brought life into the world in that, child-in-a-manger way before, and yet bringing life into the world is at the heart of God’s most beloved tune which God’s been playing since creation took it’s first breath.  

Wynton Marsalis once said, "In Jazz, improvisation isn't a matter of just making any ol' thing up.  Jazz, like any language, has its own grammar and vocabulary.”  Jesus coming into the world wasn’t God just making any ol’ thing up.  Jesus has been part of God’s language of love from before there even was a creation.  God becoming flesh and living among us was completely new, and yet used the most tried and true… most beautifully divine words… words like peace, joy, glory, light and love.  On that night, God moved the Divine presence from out there, somewhere, to right in here!  Right into our seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, touching world, so that NOW, even though God’s fingerprints have always been on every molecule of creation and God’s Spirit has always blown in every breath and every breeze… NOW you and I can hear God’s voice, see God’s face, feel God’s healing touch and taste God’s bread and wine.  

Paul Simon once said, “Improvisation is too good to be left to chance.”  And that night, that first Christmas night was God’s improvisation on God’s oldest most beloved song… A song that left nothing to chance… a song that has always made sure life is stronger than death, that hope calls out in every desperate silence, that the light of love, compassion, generosity and grace shines even into the darkest, deepest holes within ourselves and in the world… and that light… THAT light… is a light that God’s always made sure no darkness has the power to overcome.

Henry Threadgill once said, “If you go back to the roots of jazz it was all about COLLECTIVE collaboration.”  And that night, that first Christmas night, was all about the best of collective collaboration.  God playing a brand new riff on that divine, soulful, old, familiar tune of infinite, overwhelming, insistent love… but playing that night, with a brand new set of amazing, but in the world’s eyes, pretty unlikely musicians.  There was Mary.  An amazingly strong, courageous woman who boldly chose to step up on stage.  Joseph too, who dreamed the music before he played it, going on the road with Mary to Bethlehem.  The shepherds kept the beat, making sure we heard the rhythm of God’s care for the people the world so often forgets and backing them all up was the Heavenly Host singing Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to God’s people on Earth!  

God's a jazz musician… a collaborative jazz musician… an improvising, collaborating, jazz musician, riffing on God’s own, most soulful, most wonderful tune.  But there’s one more thing about God’s Christmas improv you need to know.  You see, the first rule of improv is to agree to what’s been done before, but as Tina Fey, a jazz musician who plays the instrument of comedy reminds us, “The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND.  You are supposed to agree AND THEN add something of your own.”  

You see, on THAT Christmas Eve, God and the band improvised a new riff whose name is Jesus… a beautiful riff on God’s oldest song. But on THIS Christmas Eve… THIS night, December 24th, 2017, God’s still playin’ that same old, soulful, wonderful tune… but tonight, as God leads the band, God’s inviting YOU, just as you are, with whatever instrument you have, even if all you have is your own shaky voice… God’s inviting YOU to come up on stage, join the band and add a riff of your own… to play your own YES, AND on God’s oldest, most soulful, most wonderful tune of love and grace, light and life.  God's inviting YOU... THIS night... to join the band and do nothing less than change the world.  Amen.  

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