Every Christmas Eve I listen to the BBC Radio broadcast of "Lessons and Carols". In years past, especially while I was living in the Adirondacks, this was my only Christmas experience of the lovely sound of Anglican choral singing. It is fairly deep in my personal history; in 1962 my family moved to England, and there were hymns sung at chapel every morning at the school I attended. Since I started singing at the Cathedral (St. John the Divine, in Manhattan), I have heard (and sung) a lot more of that style, and under the cathedral's new music director, Bruce Neswick, there will be much more to come. And a lot of that is coming tonight.
The Cathedral, newly rededicated after a seven-year restoration triggered by the smoke and water damage incurred in the fire of December, 2001, will no doubt be full tonight. It is quietly thrilling to stand with my fellow singers in the choir and, looking down the whole length of that beautiful structure, see the seats – all the seats! – filled by the devoted, the devout, the curious, the skeptical, the travelers, the fans of music, the fans of architecture, the tourists, the sad, the lonely, the joyous, on and on. I look at this, and think "Here comes everybody", as James Joyce (I think) said when describing the Church.
Here we are, in need of the "tidings of comfort and joy" now perhaps more than ever, when it seems that light cannot possibly overcome the darkness. But look out the window tonight: trees are alight, menorahs glowing. Families are gathering together if they can. I come from a family of singers, and even though we are not all together this year, I know that, wherever we are, we are gathering to sing, and sing, and be reminded of why we are singing.
I recognize that some of my readers are not "churchy". That's fine. We each have a path to walk, and each path is difficult enough to walk without leaning over off-balance to critique someone else's walk. Let me simply say that I am grateful for your presence, visible or invisible, in my life this Christmas.
God bless us, every one.