Handling The Messiah

Around this time of year, I make a point to listen to George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. He wrote this monumental piece in 1741, long before the fray of our modern monetized version of Christmas. Did you know it was first performed during the Easter season?

Written in three parts it covers the entirety of the impact of Christ’s coming. “Part I corresponding with Advent, Christmas, and the life of Jesus; Part II with Lent, Easter, the Ascension, and Pentecost; and Part III with the end of the church year—dealing with the end of time.”  Wikipedia.

When I grow up, I will study Handel’s Messiah in total.

November and December is referred to as “Peak Season” at UPS, where delivering glad tidings to doorsteps morphs into a drone-like activity. Out of 29 holiday hustles there were only two years where my heart didn’t freeze over eventually. One was when I tweaked my back and was benched during the two busiest weeks of peak. The other is this present season. This year I’m mostly pushing a broom and emptying the trash inside the building. The schlepping of parcels I mostly watch from a distance.

All this to say, a baroque, eighteenth century musical masterpiece on the centrality of Christ was almost overlooked. My heart seems more intact this year. My mind is more mindful if redundancy isn’t a hang up for you. I feel more present amidst the presents. Why did I almost dis The Messiah?

One reason is I didn’t feel the need to jump-start my heart like one of those electric paddle thingies. Maybe, unconsciously, I could Handel this season on my own power. Perhaps “Jingle Bells” was enough to fill the spiritual void. Why ruin a Bing Crosby mood drift with a classical oratorio of God’s rescue plan in Christ? Because that’s why.

I could dip my Jack Frost nipped toes in the Hallelujah Chorus and call it good.

But that aria-like symphonic anthem isn’t a stand-alone song. It’s imbedded. Simply serving the Hallelujah chorus like an entrée isn’t enough to satiate the wandering heart. One isn’t supposed to eat the Turkish Delight before slicing the ham. By that I mean there is context and history in the hallelujah.

If you’ve ever attended a Messiah performance, everyone stands for the Hallelujah chorus. It’s not because of sore bums; a seventh inning stretch of sorts. King George stood up in one of the early performances and the rest of the theatre followed his lead. The honor is due through story of Christ. The music and lyrics build a framework where the rafter lifting strength of the almost shouting of singers forces an ovation of standing proportions.

“Git yer duffs off them thar pews and honor God,” said Festus from Gunsmoke. (He really didn’t say that, but for some reason his demeanor came to mind.)

I’m sorry to be an old fuddy duddy, but when an advertiser highjack’s the most famous tune and tone to sell a pair of socks, well, darn.

Seriously though. Hallelujah! The whole of the piece challenges me to focus my attention in this world of distractions. Handel didn’t know what a sound bite was, well, besides a good piece of roast. He neither knew how pseudo-visual our world would become, despite the onset of blindness near the end of his life. He knew music and how to create a texture like a Van Gogh. Live performances are all they had back then, so the effort was directed at experience. Although The Messiah is his signature piece out of many, its depth has reached into countless souls to stir the cold places of the heart.

But not without the scriptures embedded in and through. Mind and heart. Did you know the lion’s share of verses come from the Old Testament? A few famous New Testament Christmas references are represented, including Luke 2:10-11, which Linus quoted in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Matthew 11:28-29, Matthew 1:23, John 1:29, and Revelation 19:6; 11:15; 19:16. I Corinthians 15 scriptures near the end of the piece, and the final verse being Revelation 5:12-13.

Here’s a link to all the scriptures involved https://www.toledosymphony.com/clientuploads/20192020season/TSOinHD/2020_0412_Messiah_Lyrics.pdf.

All this to say, take time to say woah to the reindeer, and if you need to ease into The Messiah, start with the hallelujah chorus. Don’t forget to listen to the other words in the chorus too. I know it’s a bit late, but maybe next year plan on going to a live performance. In the meantime, Mr. Grinch… Wait. What? For now, soak in the scriptural tunes of redirection and reflection. There’s still time. Immanuel is with us, we need only to turn our minds and hearts his way.

Let’s get a Handel on this season, eh?

Hearth of the Matter

My poetry went missing,

The selected words

Blended in the white noise

Of yule mules and

Their sleigh bells a bouncing.

Commerce over Christmas,

The ever present threat

Of package over presence.


Infuse our giving with life,

Let not our hearts inflate

On front lawns of light.

Guide our hearts to

The hearth of the matter.

Warm us by the fire

Of Your reality,

And give us more than

Peace on earth,

Grant us a piece of

Your heart.



A Christmas Card From Above: In Cursive

She Scotch-taped them as they arrived.

The threshold couldn’t hold them all.

Between the living room and kitchen

the Christmas cards hung open like parted lips.


Postal employees carried double heavy loads then.

Stamps were less than a dime

and tongues licked each one.

They arrived all through December.


To me it was like any collectors dream.

I used to collect beer and pop bottle caps

and keep them in an old Maxwell house coffee tin.

On occasion they fell out and stood in ordered battalions.


The cards lined up too and I thought

my mother was a curator of sorts.

She put them up for display

and passersby would thumb them open.


Beyond the Currier and Ives images,

beyond the glittered Santa beards,

beyond the bright star over the Savior

were cursive words at the bottom inside.


Greetings from around town and around the country,

hand written in indelible ink from indelible friends.

Aunts and uncles too, grandma’s and grandpa’s

shaken scrawl etched in the lower corner.


She sent them out too,

Her cursive swirled inside like flurries.

Her words beautiful, quiet,

and ending always in ‘Love comma.’


This Christmas eve I pray for snow.

I pray that the God of ‘Nothing is Impossible’

would send me snowflakes in the wind

like my mother’s handwriting.


Christmas In 20/20 Hindsight. Our House Number Was 2020 and How Grand It Was.

Christmas Morning at 20/20 Grand


The house sat at the dead end of a street jammed with ten kids.  My mom could barely lace up the shoe.  Yet she worked hard to make this time of year special.  My wife has a tinge of sadness when I tell her we would get clothes for Christmas and one toy.  I keep forgetting to tell her the other stuff.

Like the mistletoe hung over archway right under the plaster “Last Supper”.

Like the strung popcorn and cranberries that twirled around the tinsel strewn tree.

Like new fireman pajamas.

Like the hand knit stockings with a jingle bell dangling in the middle…twelve of them strung across the sun porch windows…each one with a knitted name.

Like the smell of mince meat pie.

Like the early years heading off to midnight mass.

Like hot cocoa made from real whole milk and sugar and cocoa after being out in the cold.

Like the snow which formed long cotton balls of ice and slush were fused on the bottom of our snow pants.

Like the Ames Brothers and Bing caroling us in the background.

Like the Christmas bells that hung on our back door year round…They sometimes made me think of the magic of Christmas on a hot August night.

Like heading downtown to see the Nativity and being kinda scared of the eight foot shepherd that stared right at me.

Like when we would eat the un-yellow snow.

Like when Bob McDonald, Dennis Shields and I would comb the neighborhood and steal Christmas lights off of the bushes and throw them in the street to explode like firecrackers.  (Until we got caught trying to steal some off of a front door frame)


Then the waiting.  The twelve step waiting.  “My name is Jerry and I love Christmas morning.”

“Hi Jerry.”

Ten kids on twelve steps equal anticipation, impatience, giggling, flatuation, more giggles and squeezing for position on the lowest step.  We tried to be quiet and yet just enough noise was generated to rouse the sleeping Santa at the bottom of the steps to the right.  Said Santa just went to sleep a couple of hours ago (But we didn’t appreciate that).

A gurgled “not yet!” would waif itself around the corner…then more sleep breathing.


ZZZZzzzz snarf schoogle smack smack

We could see the colored light seeping around the corner from the living room.  Our imaginations would be bouncing off each other like the little white dot that jumped a top of the sing along with Mitch songs on T.V.  We knew there would be underwear and socks and pajamas…but what of our “list” would be under the tree.  Which present of the urban sprawl under the tree would be ours?  No matter the lowest girth of the fern it could not contain the gifts.

And so we sat and she snored.

And so we fidgeted and she took cleansing sighs.

And so we creaked the steps with our buttocks and she swallowed the sugarplum fairy like a hair ball.

I imagine a committee meeting on the landing was held to appoint a scapegoat.  Someone had to directly ask the exhausted Merry Marilee (My mother Santa Clause) if we could descend.  Most likely it was Carol.  The baby.  The spoiled.  The cute.  The Cindy Lou Who of our who’s who.   Surely Mom would be sympathetic to her soft cry for freedom.  The stairs that imprisoned us all like Babes in Toyland held us.  The rail slats like iron bars on which we would drag our tin cups of impatience cuffed us.  Our bodies staggered on risers like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir…yet our voices(begging)didn’t evoke yuletide inspiration per se…more like pleading for parole or pardon.

Then we would hear a rustling and our fidgeting stopped and earwax melted to aid listening.  Out from the North Pole rose an elf in a nightie.  Red was her bed head hair as she passed.  Her cats eye glasses guiding her one eye to the coffee pot.  I could hear her flick open her cigarette lighter and flick her thumb twice.  The fridge opened and shut.  Cupboards knocked a few times.  Then she walked past again to her room to get her robe.  I swear I saw her smirk a little and a sleepy twinkle in her eyes.  We reverted to silent body language…eyes popping out…hands almost clapping…nudging…touching…scooting.

She once more came out of her den and fetched her coffee and sat in the living room.   She had a box-seat for the show.

“Alright, you can come see…”

We did see.  Not her face glowing, but lights, and sagging stockings, and sleds, and stuffed animals, and candy canes hanging on the branches.

We did see.  Not the whole picture of her thinking and choosing and remembering sizes.

We did see.  Not the exhaustion and sore muscles.

We did see…and now that we had seen from our box seats, we would all call her or stop by her north pole to appreciate the memories.  That gift is greater than any on our “list.”   Memories of the ambiance of what she created for us.  Each memory is a step on which to sit and wonder, like a child, how she did it.

This year the memories sit under each of our ten trees. All my siblings and I will miss talking to her and stopping by for pie in the evening. I wonder if there is mistletoe in heaven. I hope so. I hope she will be waiting there for us with some hanging over her head as she smirks and purses her lips. Merry Christmas mom.




Come Any Other Way.

Oh God,

come any other way,

but not as a child.


Come in a space ship

so we can call you alien,

and just a figment.


Wash up on shore

as a castaway, an unknown,

scraggly and salt soaked.


Walk into town as a vagabond

so we can look and call authorities

to distance us.


Stand by the side of the road

with a cardboard sign

so we can hand you a twenty and drive on.


But please don’t come as a baby.

Don’t come and coo and cry

and take our breath away.


Don’t come as we did,

dependant and humble

and wrapped up tight.


Just don’t, don’t be so vulnerable

as a wonder from a womb

bathed in the liquid of humanity.


Don’t come as a child, please.

For then we would need to

hold you in our arms.


Don’t come as an infant

so innocent and small

for we might get emotional.


Don’t come as we once were

to become as we

should be.


Don’t come in this mysterious way

for then we might come

and adore You.


Any Other Way

Oh God, come any other way,

but not as a child.


Come in a space ship

so we can claim you as an alien,

as a figment of our imagination.


Wash up on earth’s shore

so we can claim you as a castaway

an unknown, scraggly and salt soaked.


Walk into town as a vagabond

so we can look and call authorities

to distance us.


Stand by the side of the road

so we can decide if your thumb up

is necessary for us to stop.


But please don’t come as a baby.

Don’t come and coo and cry

and take our breath away.


Don’t come as we did,

dependant and humble

and wrapped up tight.


Just don’t, don’t be so vulnerable

as a wonder from a womb

bathed in the liquid of humanity.


Don’t come as a child, please.

For then we would need to

hold you in our arms.


Don’t come as an infant

so innocent and small

for we might get emotional.


Don’t come as we once were

to become as we

should be.


Don’t come in this mysterious way

for then we might come

and adore You.

Monday after…Sunday after…Thursday

It is time to leave.

Not to Afghanistan,

Not to Iraq,

Not to South Korea

or Vietnam

or the Normandy Coast.

Death will be not proud.

I will dress in my browns,

infantry boots shined

and winter proofed.

The packages will come

over hill and over dale.

The chocolate colored

transport…wishing it was

a half track to keep me on track.

What started with a humble infant

has become an infantile rush

of pepper spray and crawling

under gates of splendor

to cradle a doll with no soul.

The Christmas spirit

has become a Currahee  hike

with a full pack on.

My band of brothers

brown down and down and down.

This begins another “peak season” at UPS where I deliver for the fat man with the deep contagious laugh.  The season very nearly kills me every year.  Sure physically it is hard but my soul gets delivered right along with the gifts.  The battle really is to keep the Child in view.  The mystery and miracle of the Greatest Delivery in all history from one far greater than Santa has to remain intact in the end.  I pray that we all might cradle the Child and what the Child represents.  Those who have given the sacrifice of their lives for freedom are far greater than my miniscule efforts for which I earn a living.  So when I get weary I will think of those (Jesus first and then many who have lost life and limb for the cause of freedom)who fought far greater battles.