Monday, December 19, 2016

"Sing we now of Christmas"

I have two self-assigned seasonal "jobs" I take on each year in our small church, St. Paul's United Methodist Church, about half a mile from my house in Boulder. I'm in charge of our "Mitten Tree" decorated with warm socks, hats, gloves, scarves, and yes, mittens, for the homeless. And I organize and lead caroling to a nearby retirement community and to our church shut-ins.

Both involve singing, and both remind me of how much the joy of Christmas is celebrated in song.

The Mitten Tree involves singing because I "wrote" a song to accompany this ministry. Our first ministry of Christmas giving to the homeless was started by a former member who moved away perhaps twenty years ago. It was our "Shoebox Gifts for the Homeless" ministry, which involved handing out empty shoeboxes on the first Sunday of Advent, to be filled by the congregation with small toiletry items, warm hats and gloves, and little candy treats, then gift-wrapped as presents for individual homeless persons at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.

I have to admit that this ministry was a huge pain for the person in charge - that is to say, for me - because it involved asking various local shoe stores to save empty shoeboxes, then going to collect the boxes (usually on Black Friday, when the parking lots were at their most jammed and the stores were at their most crazed), and finding out the stores had just given the boxes away to someone else who showed up first for their shoebox ministry or holiday craft project. I was worn to a frazzle with shoebox stress.

But I did come up with a song for the ministry, which the congregation sang with me each year. You can guess the tune. Here are the words:

Deck the halls with old shoeboxes.
Fa la la (etc.!)
Fill the bottoms and the topses.
Fill with gifts to give the homeless.
Thus, we share the joy of Christmas.

It was a relief to me when the shelter told me they no longer wanted individual wrapped gifts, and we switched instead to the Mitten Tree, where all I have to do is collect the offerings in trash bags and take them en masse to the shelter instead.

Of course, a new song was needed. You can guess the tune for this one, too.

O Mitten Tree! O Mitten Tree!
We come to fill your branches.
O Mitten Tree! O Mitten Tree!
We come to fill your branches.
With hats and scarves, and socks and gloves
We give to share our Savior's love.
O Mitten Tree! O Mitten Tree!
We come to fill  your branches!

I  noted yesterday that the branches are indeed filled completely. I'll gather up the "ornaments" and take them to the shelter tomorrow.

The church caroling is its own jigsaw puzzle of coordination, as places don't want us to come during residents' nap time (so preferably not before 3) or during residents' dinner time (which can be as early as 5 or even 4:45). And the places we visit are not all that close together. And we want to be able to linger and chat and share holiday cheer. And yet to hustle on the next stop. I never know if anybody from the congregation is going to show up to sing with me, given the busyness of schedules in December. What if it's just me, in my scratchy, squeaky, altogether irritating sort-of soprano?

But it always does work out, as it did yesterday. We started out at the Meridian, doing an actual performance for half an hour or so in the living room, accompanied (brilliantly!) by my son Christopher. I handed out song books, and everyone sang their hearts out for two verses of every single classic carol.

Next we visited Mildred, sharp-as-a-tack at 102 (!), and always so warm and welcoming when we crowd into her small and beautifully decorated room to sing.

Last stop was our visit to Arline, in a memory care unit at a place we had never visited before. Our instructions said not to come in the front door, but the back door, where we should ring the doorbell for admittance. But there was no doorbell! And it was ten degrees outside! By the time all that was sorted out, we were running even later and feeling even guiltier.

Finally, though, we were inside, and it was warm, and a few residents were there to hear us. There was  a  worn upright piano, and Christopher played to assist our tired voices.

And the magic happened.

Residents who remember so little of who they are and where they are could still remember the lyrics to "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Silent Night." They sang with us, word-perfect. One, pushing several teddy bears in her walker, even started dancing to "Jingle Bells" (a resident's request).

The Nativity story in Luke 2 related the angels "saying" to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men." But I'm sure they sang it. As I learned again yesterday, Christmas is the season of singing.

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