Somewhere along the way, I ran into
An Exaltation of Larks* by James Lipton.
Lipton tells us how to name ten or more of any species or groups. Examples: A pride of lions, a galaxy of astronomers, a descent of relatives, a persistence of parents, a piddle of puppies, a flush of plumbers, a bouquet of pheasants, a knot of toads, a shush of librarians, an exaltation of larks—to name a few.
Imagine with me “a host of angels”—it couldn’t be a group of angels, it had to be a heavenly host. On Christmas Eve a host of angels converse with certain poor shepherds, who represent the poorest of the poor and often were despised.
Shepherds are seldom held in high regard but one night, “lo, a heavenly host”—don’t say “a bunch” of angels—only a heavenly host fits the occasion because this is out of the ordinary, a never-before happening—to the lost and least, the despised, the common—a Word of hope is given.
W.H. Auden, in his Christmas play,
For the Time Being, allows the shepherds to speak—“Tonight the heavens open wide—the day to day habit of the ordinary is broken”—they hear some good new and it is different from what the newspapers offer. Only the dull would call it fake, this good news.
The ordinary folks—those despised and rejected, the sinned against—according to Luke are the first to hear the Good News—“lo, a host of angels” send shepherds to Bethlehem to see and to find the Child of Promise.
I wonder what Lipton would call a gathering of theologians. It would have to be a colloquy of scholars—gathered to make theological sense out of this magical moment.
This I know, a
“delight of children” will get it right away—an odium of politicians will ignore its relevance. Question: Will the forthcoming General Conference be a
noise of Methodists or a
conversion of saints? Some say we have lost our voice and our audience—we have given ourselves a spiritual headache. But cup an ear and listen: “Lo, a host of angels find common ground with the despised of this world—shepherds go to Bethlehem to see.” Sounds like a wake-up call. Let's get real for a moment:
My friend David Twombly died this advent. He went to join the love of his life, Larry Hoch, also deceased. These men, by their own description, were the older adults in the Iowa High Court ruling that allowed gay people to come out of the shadows and celebrate marriage in Iowa. David and Larry joined with several couples to bring the lawsuit that made Iowa the second in the nation to allow gay marriage. David was a gentle soul who taught children music in public schools for thirty years—even so, he was forced to hide in the shadows. He and Larry had only a brief time together as a married couple before Larry died— but knowing them as I did, I know the vaults of heaven ring for joy to receive them.
Each Christmas Eve, Jan and I seek a midnight service to listen for the Host of Angels, who send us to the stable where for a brief moment all of creation is joined, “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” We wish for each of you the blessings of oneness with God and neighbor this Christmas.
Dear God, bind us together, open our ears and eyes to the wonder of your grace, that we would serve you better in the days to come. Let our witness resemble a melody of harpists rather than a poverty of pipers. Give to thy church a sense of the exaltation of larks, that we might greet the new year with joy and peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
*James Lipton, An Exaltation of Larks, Grossman Publishing, New York, 1968.
Please Note: The Rev. Martha Ward will offer the Epiphany Lessons in January.
Martha, now retired, was Co-Senior Minister with her husband Bob, serving the Ankeny First United Methodist, one of the fastest growing congregations in Iowa. Please welcome Martha with your usual kind responses. Thanks to Bill Steward for your inspiring Advent messages. The “two Bills” will return with the coming of Lent.