the penultimate WORD

Series 2006 - January
Oy! What a Season...!


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican






January 2006: Oy! What a Season...!The crunch of snow beneath rolling tires betrays the chill night air.  As I turned onto Paul Street I slipped a CD into the disk player and adjusted the volume.

St Mary’s Reserve on Fredericton’s North Side draws vehicles as a star drew camels across a desert.  Every age is attracted to the light.  The days of Epiphany find urban caravans navigating streets for homes decorated for another Festival of Light.  There is so much to see many will return before the season is over and winter is plunged in darkness again.

My car filled with the strains of OY to the World! A Klezmer Christmas as I took my place in the procession and began to climb the hill.  Yes, you heard me right. Klezmer, the Jewish take on the free-form instrumentation of Dixieland with a flavour that’s distinctively kosher. This band of not-so-meshuga merry makers who pull it all together with charm and an appropriately light touch somehow set a celebratory note that greeted the Polyglot assembly before me – Donald Duck and his nephews, Chipmunks, Reindeer and Toons, each blending their imagined voices.  This host of plastic creatures encamped on lawns and balancing precariously on rooftops was reminiscent of the midnight fabled miracle of the Holy Night.  Then ox and ass and farm animals spoke of God’s wondrous love borne humbly and placed in a manger.  Here, amongst the Disney characters singing carols; Charlie Brown leading the Peanuts gang in yuletide revelry; a diverse community of Toons animated by the imagination spoke of joy and peace and love as well.  The annual celebration embraced a manger scene with the Holy Family and the ubiquitous shepherds.  Persian Magi approach from a neighbour’s yard as the traveler and curious is allowed to blend into a tableau on the heights.

The Klezmonauts throw in a few surprises, like a mini tribute to Dick Dale and his surf guitar. Surprises attended the Holy Birth generations ago and the rhapsodic clarinet ensures that we are not jaded to the surprises of today’s epiphanies!  There are a few bars from the theme to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and a world ripe for redemption is brought to mind as an authentic note augments “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”.

An original tune about Saint Nick called “Santa Gey Gezunderheit (Santa, Go in Good Health)” allows the discordant myth of largesse and compliments it with a patriarchal blessing.  The Bishop of Myra and the Patron of Capitalism and the Patriarchs of the Five Books of Moses secure a harmony that startles.  Jesus’ birth brought Glory close to the ordinary and blessed it with Grace and Truth.  A lot like this First Nation witness of Incarnation. 

Reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie, the scene spread out before me illustrated the alarming good news that interrupted the Polyglot of Bethlehem generations ago.  These were not Christian tourists making a Nativity pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  The sights and smells and sounds of Bethlehem crushed Joseph and his family as they sought shelter.  These were the likes of Donald Duck and Homer Simpson and Snow White and Bugs Bunny.

As diverse as the wired lighted reindeer and plastic creatures that had pressed into this hillside, so were those who returned to the City of their birth for an imperial census.  Stars of spaghetti Westerns, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach reflect citizens of Rome at once obedient and defiant – reminiscent of urban denizens. 

If the gospel has intellectual integrity changes should take place.  And the pledge of that reality shone brightly in the dark of this winter night.  The occasion of Birth brought unaccustomed characters together here, as when shepherds and passers-by happened to share in Joseph’s joy and Mary’s relief.

The assembly allowed for change.  The occasion allowed for conversion.  God allowed for a response to the initiative that brought his nature first close to us.

That has been my epiphany.

As ordinary paths are left to seek out the journey of car lights through a Reserve a truth deeper than the night is revealed in the twinkling lights outlining home and hearth.  For a moment the commerce of every day is abandoned and the pressures that greet every morning are laid aside.  Men and women and their bundled children go in search of joy and wonder and sure discovery.

To the extent that I allow this sorry assembly of nonsense to attract and disarm the weary, and recognize that in the fanciful drama of the night the Christ Child is found and Mary and Joseph and a Star – then I begin to see what it means to say that Jesus came and was among us.

Jesus came close to the characters of this fragile world… close to the likes of you, and of me.  Some of us may be good.  But the bad and the ugly have been touched by his disarming intimacy.  Before him, we are at best Toons – given depth and purpose by the gift this child has been to a world in need of Promise.

Concluding my revelry, I put my car in gear as the disk began its last cut.

OY to the World! ends with a performance of cello, violin and piano and the lullaby strains of “Away in a Manger” that at first seems out of place after all that frivolity but only reminds us that every type of music offers the same range of emotion, from silly and slapstick to tender and touching.

Oy, what a season!

Copyright © 2006 James T. Irvine

Series 2006

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton   St Mary's First Nation - Festival of Lights

penultimate WORD - Festivals of Light Series