There times in our new town of Guilford feels as though I live in a postcard or a movie set. The town is quaint and beautiful and steeped in its traditions. Like many places across the country, we had our Tree Lighting tonight, but ours was on the Town Green, bordered by shops and offices with snacks for passersby, a string quintet of eighth grade girls playing in the coffee shop, and luminaria lining the sidewalks. One of the folks standing with us remarked that if felt a bit like the happy version of the crowd gathered in the movie Groundhog Day.
One of the songs we all sang together as we waited for them to illuminate the tree was “Frosty the Snowman.” For the first time it struck me that the song is not as lighthearted as its melody. In the last verse he’s running around trying to get to his Snowman Bucket List before he melts. His days are numbered and his options are shrinking. But don’t you cry . . . .
After the the lights were turned on, many wandered back across the Green to the sanctuary of our church where the high school choirs and orchestra carried on an almost three decade tradition of their holiday concert. When I say choirs and orchestra, I’m talking about over two hundred students filling the horseshoe balcony that wraps all the way around the room and the orchestra stretched across the front. They were well prepared and offered a wonderful almost ninety minute program of everything from “Jingle Bells” to the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
As the students sang and played, you could feel the pride in the room. When it was over, smiling parents and relatives found their favorite students and congratulated them. The way our cultural story goes, these kids are the ones with possibilities. The world, as the saying goes, is their oyster. They know nothing of snowmen.
I came home to an email from a friend who takes time to send his thoughts about life and the things that matter, and he was talking about how his uncle taught him to play chess, and how his uncle told him there were more possible chess moves than there were grains of sand. My friend said he finally went and looked it up.
After each player has moved once there are 400 possible moves.
After two moves there are 70,000 possible moves.
After three moves more than 9,000,000 possible moves.
After four moves 288+ billion moves.
The average number of moves in a game is 40.
I figured the opposite would be true. That you have the greatest number of possibilities before you move anything; and the longer you play, the fewer the possibilities.
This is true of faith and future, too. The more Christ-moves you make, the greater the number of possible moves God can make. Maybe that’s why Jesus told us not to worry. Watch.
This has changed my understanding of “watch” in Advent. It has always seemed more like a warning. “Brace yourself!” “Sleep with one eye open.” But what if “watch” means: Look at this! You think a baby in a manger was something? You ain’t seen nothing yet! Watch the Lord of the Dance bust a move!
My point is less about how short life is and that we need to make the best of our days than it is about how we choose to look at the day we have in front of us. Are we counting down, or opening up new possibilities. Are we waiting or watching? I overhead two men talking in the grocery store this afternoon. One asked the other how things were going and he answered, “I’m just counting down the days until I can retire?”
“How long do you have left?” asked the other.
“Two and a half years,” he said.
As she neared eighty, my mother decided she wanted to learn something new, so she took up piano lessons. I’ll ask again: are we waiting or watching?
Part of the reason I enjoyed the concert tonight was it connected me with my days in the chorus at Westbury High School in Houston. Our teacher was Ms. Smith who was hard and a bit moody and absolutely amazing. I was dropped into that high school the middle of my junior year and choir was one of the things that helped me find my place there and be able to begin to think of what the next move might be. Forty-one years later, life has more layers than it did then. It’s more interesting and more challenging.
If the baby in Bethlehem was the whole story, we wouldn’t be lighting lights and singing carols. We mark the birth because of who the baby became, because of the dance he taught us, because of who he calls us to be.This life we’re living is not a dirge, but a dance. Girls, hit your hallelujah.
Here is your closing hymn.
I see beautiful New England and hear beautiful music. What a start to the day!
Beautiful, Milton. I love the chess image — the more you play, the more possibilities, and that’s just how God is! And the song at the end was great. Xo
Thank you Milton!
It sounds like you’ve landed in an amazing spot, Milton. Thanks for painting a beautiful picture of the tree lighting.
One of your best, Milton. MUCH food for thought. Thank you.
Two days before Chris died, the hospice chaplain asked him what he thought the Divine would say when they came face-to-face. Chris broke out in this typically huge grin and said, “Welcome home my beloved son. Wait ’til you see what’s next!!”