THE TWELFTH NOEL: EARLY EPIPHANY
At church today we pretended it was Epiphany.
It's not. Tomorrow is Epiphany. As far as I'm concerned, you can't make January 5 be January 6 even by a papal decree, or however else these Sundays started taking the place of real holy days. So far, they haven't moved Christmas to the Sunday nearest the 25th, but I assume that will be next.
Regardless, I don't mind having a group celebration of Epiphany on Sunday, since we all happen to be together anyway. By "all" I mean the few who came out in the snow and cold. Still, we were way holier than most of the protestant churches which cancelled their services. I don't know if that's because the people who want to come worship can't get there or because all the people to put on the production, I mean lead the worship, can't get there.
Our church is a little different. We got a book. If the choir can't make it, if the organist can't make it, even if, like today, the pastor can't make it, we still got church. And, since we were celebrating Epiphany, we even had a bottle of white wine at coffee hour. I don't know who started it, but I love that tradition. And a king's cake. If you get a bean, you're the King. And we had a reading of "Journey of the Magi."
But, even then, if the people who were supposed to be reading "Journey of the Magi" couldn't have made it, the next available literate person could have stepped up. We didn't need a PA system or a video booth or anything. Like I said, we have a book. Of course, if I weren't there, you wouldn't get my expert negative opinion on T. S. Eliot, but some people I know would rather not have that anyway.
Of course, if Edwin hadn't made it, he wouldn't have been able to preach his sermon. Even though I walked to church, I missed the sermon because I was showing his baby daughter Elizabeth how to hide a ginger biscuit in her sock. Don't judge me. If you would have heard how loud she was screaming when I came upon that plan to distract, you would want to give me a medal. Or at least the bean from the cake. There's nothing in the book of common prayer about distracting crying babies with ginger biscuits, so sometimes we do sort of improvise.
Anyway, it's Twelfth Night. A snowy, cold, windy, ending to the Christmas season. And to my long writing journey, from twenty-four Ironic Advent Meditations to the Twelve Noels. A cold coming I had of it.
I feel like saying thank you to some people, but I'm not sure that's called for specifically. I mean it's always good to say thank you, but this wasn't a production number, after all. It was a labor, for sure. But a labor of love. Love for my brother, Noel. But also love for the crazy message(s) of Advent and Christmas, which boggles my brain, burns my heart, calls forth my ironic qualifications, and keeps me coming back for more.
So, instead of thanks, as such, I'll just leave one final tribute to my brother, Noel. And a couple of special memories.
When he was in the hospital in October for the original hip replacement, I showed up the week after the surgery. Missy had been there during. Noel hated the hospital food. I kept telling him to eat it and that he obviously hadn't spent enough time in schools or prisons where the food was similarly institutional. But, really, to tell the truth, sometimes it was just too awful for words. So one night my son Nathan and I go to a Texas Bar-b-que place just a couple of blocks from the hospital (yes, in New York City).
Well it wasn't the greatest, and it caused problems for me, being a vegetarian, but we came back with what seemed like about twenty pounds of stuff and chowed down for a long time in that hospital room. And I think Noel's beloved Dallas Cowboys were even on television that night. I got nothing more to say about that story than that it happened. It was messy and fun and fine. Everybody reaching around Noel's hospital bed tray for more sauce or more slaw or more beans or more Texas Toast.
Another story. Once upon a time, we were hippies. We did things that hippies did. I then went away to college and became a Jesus freak. The first time I came home for Christmas, that Jesus freak thing was just kicking in and I guess I hadn't totally figured it out yet (unlike now, in which I am one with my bliss and dancing with angels pretty much non-stop). So, I sort of told Noel and Gordon about it, but also started back into doing hippie things, whatever they were. Then I went back to college.
So, about two or three weeks later, I get this letter from Noel. He couldn't have been more than 15. I wish I still had it. Maybe I do somewhere. Anyway, Noel writes and says something like Hey Joe thanks for telling us about Jesus and all while you were here, sorry we didn't really understand. But, a cool thing happened, a friend invited us to this Jesus freak house, called Shiloh, and it was awesome and Gordon and I are now Jesus freaks and not doing those hippie things anymore and, brother this is what I'm really writing about, YOU HAD BETTER GET RIGHT WITH GOD OR YOU ARE GONNA' BURN!!
Call me Lauren Winner, but I may have exaggerated Noel's letter just a tiny bit either for effect or to make up for my faulty memory. But that's just about what he wrote.
And he really went whole hog into that Jesus freak thing. Oh my, he studied the scriptures, he witnessed to the hippie sinners on the streets of Denver, he was probably more faithful to Bible studies than mom was to her A. A. meetings (and she just about never missed). I remember him as being very shiny in those days. You've seen some of the pictures. He had hair down to the middle of his back. He had something making sense of his life. He gave himself to it with joy and incredible energy.
It's a cold, snowy night, the end of Christmas. Have I mentioned that? So let me add a postscript to that last story. The NEXT Christmas, we were all on the same page, so to speak, in terms of Jesus freak-i-ness. But being Jesus freaks, we weren't part of a church that did things like midnight mass on Christmas Eve. On the other hand, having grown up Catholic, that meant something to us.
So the three of us and some other Jesus freak friends walked through the snow to Blessed Sacrament Church to go to midnight mass (I remember Becky Dimmock came with; she had such a shock of red frizzy hair and big freckles. Also a guy named Larry who had a big shock of blonde frizzy hair. Only the Ricke's had straight hair, I guess).
I remember that it was a lovely clear night, snow on the ground, and 12 degrees. Funny the things you remember. I say we walked, but really, we grabbed onto the back of the bumpers of cars and sort of bumper skied down the icy streets.
The church was packed and they weren't used to having too many Jesus freaks. I think they were happy to see us though. We got there a little early, and a choir up in the loft behind was singing selections from Handel's Messiah. We may never have heard that before. I'm not sure.
But as they sang, we would pull out our Bibles. Carrying your Bible was as important to Jesus freaks as carrying a pipe had been to hippies. "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people." Noel would say that was in Isaiah something. And everybody would turn to the passage and read it while they were singing. "Every valley shall be exa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-alted." Somebody would look that one up. And so on until the Hallelujah Chorus and the Book of Revelation.
Everyone was so young and shiny and sparkly and full of hope and so happy about Jesus being born and all. I'll never forget that night. We had been to a lot of midnight masses growing up, but ever since things had gone bad with mom and dad, the family didn't even really go to church anymore. But there we were. And nobody made us go. We wanted to be there. It was like we were seeing and hearing that story for the first time. Wide eyed and open.
I can hear the wind outside right now. It's supposed to get up to 30 or 40 miles per hour. The temp is supposed to drop to 12 below. I won't be bumper skiing tonight or any time soon.
That midnight mass in Denver was incredible, euphoric, and lovely words that haven't been invented yet. I couldn't take my eyes off Becky's frizzy red hair. [how did THAT get in here?] I wish everyone could have an experience like that, and I guess maybe lots of people do.
I also remember being in church with Noel for his wedding. And his funeral. Father Charly said some great things about my brother that day. He had done a lot of service to the church, including teaching catechism and helping others teach. Kind of like what he did when he was fifteen back in Denver.
There weren't a bunch of frizzy-haired Jesus freaks looking things up in their Bibles at the funeral, but my two sons, Matthew and Nathan, did the scripture readings. Then we all cried, and held hands during the Lord's Prayer, and said goodbye to Noel.
I will say one thank you, I guess. Thank you Noel. For writing me that letter. For going whole hog for things you loved, including the Cowboys and Bar-b-que. And your family. Thank you for shining for us. For me. I hope and pray you have had your Epiphany. I can still hear that Blessed Sacrament choir singing: And the glory, the glory of the Lord, shall be-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-reveal-ed. (Open link to listen).
the portrait is of Noel and his daughter, Krista.