Sunday, December 17, 2006

Glimpses of Heaven

Do you ever have one of those liminal moments when you feel as if you've been given a peek at a new kind of reality? A momentary glimpse of life as God intended it to be lived? Those kind of moments fall like gifts into our laps - and they almost always take us by surprise. I had one of those moments this morning, during worship.

It had been a busy week, a good week, with meaningful work to do, small evidences of progress being made on our home remodel, sweet moments of connection with my husband and my kids. And then we found ourselves invited out to three different Christmas gatherings - three nights in a row. That almost never happens to us. Thursday brought a Swedish smorgasbord at the lovely, large apartment of long time, older friends. About 15 people, some of whom we've known for 30 years or so, enjoyed Swedish meatballs, rice pudding, baked beans and homemade spritz and pepperkakor. Friday brought a last minute invitation to the home of a former colleague, a true helpmate when times were tough in the last couple of years. Spare ribs and twice-baked potatoes eaten in a brightly decorated, neat and tidy home. Last night was our staff Christmas gathering, hosted by a dear friend and her husband (and her mom, who lives upstairs and who opened her home to us all for dessert). We laughed and relaxed together, filled with gratitude for friendship as well as partnership.

So, the week was full. I was the preacher this morning, and in and around the various responsibilities of home and church, I pieced together a cohesive message that was received well. As always, there was more to be said than I could manage to pull together, but 20 minutes is enough! Every once in a while when I'm preaching, I have one of these moments I'm talking about. A glimpse of God actively at work in and through me, a brief moment of clarity when the power of the Word takes me outside of myself. Today was not one of those days. But still... there was such a moment... an arresting, transporting, heavenly moment...

It happened during the lighting of the Advent candle in our second service. The family who had planned to do it had to drop out due to the unexpected death of a dearly loved relative, so I had to scramble to find a replacement. There is a family new to our congregation, people I don't yet know well, but whom I find to be welcoming and real. They said yes immediately. This is a blended family - I'm not sure which children came into the family with which parent - but they are bright, friendly, cooperative kids. And their parents have jumped in with both feet, offering to help in wonderful, practical, much-needed ways. We are glad and grateful that they're here and I was looking forward to their leadership.

As the piano played softly in the background, the littlest girl lit our 3rd candle (gently aided by the dad of the house). The mom, in her lilting French accent, led in our responsive reading from Isaiah. She read so simply, so beautifully, that my eyes began to fill with tears. Everyone else sang two verses of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" while I waited for my throat to open - and then ... it happened.

The three oldest children, two boys and a girl, stepped to the microphone. The tallest boy read the heading of the next section of the litany - "A Child's Prayer for Advent - written by Martin Luther" - and then all 3 of them read together, clearly and perfectly:

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for thee.

Gazing at these three lovely children, listening to their beautiful unison reading, it suddenly seemed as if the air in front of me was electrically charged and for just the briefest moment, all those molecules reconfigured themselves in such a way that I was able to peer inside the gates of heaven itself. In the blink of an eye, I was transported. Pure, sweet voices offering words of worship to the infant Savior. A glimpse of heaven, a glimpse of home. Oh, thank you!