We had our Carol Celebration last night - and a good time was had by all, as always. This is one of the highlights of life here at Bloomsbury, and even when it feels very fragile before it starts, (as it did this year, because of illness - various people we depend on are unwell and were not able to be present) it always comes together and is wonderful.
Lots of people sing - in choirs, as soloists, with and without accompaniment, and as a congregation, when we sing the big carols and enjoy it. And there are readings, Scripture and otherwise, and prayers, and then coffee and mince pies and time for conversation.
This year we were delighted to welcome the London International Gospel Choir, who are becoming very good friends of this congregation, and who sang wonderfully. And our own choir sang amazingly and Philip played the organ.
Personally, each year, the highlight is the "scratch" Hallelujah Chorus. The choir leads us - but all those who want to join in are invited up onto stage, have music thrust into our hands, and we belt it out.
It's not great. This year, we were ably sustained by a soprano who found herself singing almost a solo and who did amazingly. And those who are singers manage to nurse the rest of us through it. But those of us who don't often sing love the opportunity. And in particular, the opportunity to sing such an amazing piece.
It is not as Handel originally wrote it, or even how he imagined it, I suspect. It is not Cohen's Broken Hallelujah.
It is a slightly cracked hallelujah. And that seems appropriate for a church and for Christmas,
For as a church, like every church, we have high aspirations and ideals, we live by a huge story, and look for a wonderful coming Kingdom. And we fail, we get in muddles, we are hurtful to one another and neglectful of our calling, as well as devoted, creative, caring and loving. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. And that shows as we sing the Hallelujah chorus at Christmas.
And it is appropriate for Christmas. For Christmas is when we celebrate the Hallelujahs of the angels, not about the perfection of God but about the way God has come to be with us in our broken, muddled, messy and painful world - not living apart from it, but deep within it, to love and heal, call and bless.
That is our messy, cracked and wonderful hallelujah.
PS The picture is of a broken bowl from Japan; the story goes that when a bowl is broken, rather than throwing it away, the crack is repaired with gold, to make it a feature of the decoration. I like that idea....