Monday, November 26, 2012

The Frolic Sanctity of Advent

Last year during the Advent season my wife, Anna, and I attempted to teach our children the story of Christ’s birth through song. We would all gather, rather haphazardly, around the couch or sprawled out on the living room floor. The intention was to teach the kids one hymn each Advent week until Christmas. We truly attempted to teach them more than one hymn, but our fatal (and fantastic) flaw was that our first hymn was “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. When we tried to move on to a new hymn the children would have none of it. My feeble efforts in teaching “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” and “Away in a Manger” were met with resistant yawns. So I gave in. It was an O Come, O Come Emmanuel-athon.

Our eldest, Adison, from the moment she heard it, was determined to learn every word to the song. She soaked up every haunting note, carefully watching our mouths as we sang the words. Watching her sing it is infectious. Every now and then I still spot her off in a pew by herself before worship flipping through the hymnbook to find “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and then, with a studious finger-pointing technique, she traces the lines, singing softly to herself. She was seriously devoted to learning the song because her heart had it memorized the first time she heard it.

My son, Noah, on the other hand, was seriously devoted to flipping across the room while we tried to teach this hymn. He had no time for anyone mourning in lonely exile. He was ready to disperse them gloomy clouds and get to the good stuff. As we sang our way through those solemn, expectant verses, he was gearing up for the refrain, ready to unfurl a noise that would make a trumpet curse. “REEEJOICE! REEEJOICE!” Every little particle of that little boy’s body united as one biological choir striving towards this one purpose. “REEEJOICE! REEEJOICE!” His voice only gave credence to what the rest of his body was already saying. His face, with eyes wide and wild, screamed, “Rejoice!” His arms rocketed to the sky and his legs sprung him upwards faster than a spooked cat; together they cried, “Rejoice!” Had it not been for the ceiling, the Heavenly Host would’ve undoubtedly mistaken him for one of their own.

And so we sang. I held the hymnbook and carried the tune. My wife held onto Arwen, our third child, and carried our fourth, Willow, in her womb. Adison, like an anchor, delving the depths of the soul of the song, singing the ancient words as if it were the first time they had ever been sung. And we needed that weightiness, because the second our lips stopped moving we would’ve been hurled into the heavens—zipping through the Aurora Borealis and bypassing the Pleiades—borne on the wings of a little boy’s praise.

During that time I experienced, what Chesterton off-handedly calls, deep levity. The seriousness and gravity of the birth of God as Man dancing on the lips of children. Children who have yet to scratch the surface of the amazing implications of what it means for God to become Man, yet with a shriek and a laugh seem to understand it better and with more intimacy than the most learned theological scholar. C.S. Lewis described his Eve-like Green Lady in Perelandra as one who possessed ‘frolic sanctity’. As I think back on it, no better words could define such a moment. A family searching together the depths of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God, not through textbooks and chalk dust, but through singing, laughing, and children jumping off of couches.

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