The conductor and the orchestra. A story for a carol service 2019

There was once a conductor who formed an orchestra.


He chose the people who were to become part of his orchestra. He knew them, and he loved them. He wanted them to flourish, to become the musician that they could be, to play music that they could only dream of. So, for each of them he crafted an exquisite instrument, which he gave to them.
At first it went well. They followed his direction. They listened to each other.
It was an amazing score. The conductor had handwritten each score for each person. There were sections where it was very detailed, but there were also sections when players could improvise as in, for example, a jazz concert. And he had given to each player their moment of glory.

And the audience that they played to was huge. A few weeks ago, I met Svetlana Kasyan who told me that she had come back from Verona where she had sung Aida in front of 40000 people. Wow! I was star struck. But the audience for this orchestra is far greater. It is an audience not numbered in thousands or millions. It is huge, billions upon billions of beings, seen and unseen, earth and heaven.

And as each member of the orchestra looked to the conductor, and followed him, and listened to each other, and as they followed the score, the music was astounding. It led you beside still waters, it took you into deep dark valleys, even into the pit; it led through deserts and then pastures, to places of dissonance before glorious resolution, and then it took you up high mountains and then you soared into the heavens. It almost played itself. There was such harmony and there was such beauty.

I don’t know where the rebellion began. I think it might have been the cellists. An unruly bunch. They thought that they could write a better score. They thought that they could get an improved deal, a bigger part.
But the murmuring and the muttering began. And it spread. Why do I have to play this? Why do we play at this speed, in this way? Why can’t I be more important? Why are you restricting my freedom of expression? Who is the conductor to tell me what to play?

So they rebelled against the conductor.
They ignored him. They stopped looking at him, they stopped following him.
And that was when it began to get messy.
The trombones complained that the violins had a better tune, and so they were going to play the violins part. The percussion brought in their own music so that, they said, they could express themselves. The violas wanted to play baroque and the trumpets wanted to play jazz; and as for the balalaikas ...
Some here were playing Shostakovich, some here were playing Queen. There was a small group who were into Elgar and who had decided to go it alone. Fights broke out. People got so stressed. One or two opted out – they said they couldn’t take it, but the vast majority stayed in and battled for what they liked and what they thought would make them look good.
It had become the orchestra from hell.

And what did the conductor do while all this was going on?
He could have got heavy. He could have threatened them and said that if they didn’t do what he said, then he would take back the instruments and they would never play again. He could have done that. But he didn’t. Because he wanted them to choose freely to follow him. 
He could have shut down the orchestra. But despite the rebellion and the chaos, it was still his orchestra and he continued to love each of the members. He hated seeing the way that they were playing the music of the gutter, and he longed for each of them to fulfil their potential, and to be part of that incredible music. And he was not prepared to give up – yet.

So instead the conductor sent his son to become a member of that orchestra. And he crafted him an instrument: a harp.
The son loved his father, the conductor, and he loved the harp and he loved the music. Indeed, the music was part of him. But he also loved the people in the orchestra and the orchestra itself.
And he left the royal box, and he took his seat at the back of the orchestra.
And while everybody else was playing what they wanted in the way that they wanted, he simply fixed his eyes on the conductor – who had never stopped conducting - and he played what the conductor wanted in the way the conductor wanted.
It was almost impossible to hear in the middle of the cacophony, but it was beautiful. People had forgotten just how beautiful it was. And there were one or two people – a flautist, a recorder player and a second violinist – who picked up on what he was doing and followed him. That drew the attention of others, and when they realised that the harpist was the son of the conductor, and that he was playing the music of the conductor, it made them mad. They didn’t listen to the music. Instead they said, ‘How dare you, how dare you choose to play that particular piece of music in that particular way? How dare you restrict our freedom by following the conductor?’ They attacked him, beat him up, smashed his harp and threw him off the stage.
And they continued to form cliques and factions and argue and fight, and they each continued to play the music that they thought made them look good.  

Today we hear again the story of how 2000 years ago, at the first Christmas, God sent his Son into this world.

Jesus came from God but was born of the virgin Mary in a cowshed. He was fully God but also fully one of us.
He came into a world where people had forgotten God and lived for themselves or their family or for things or for an ideology or passion. Or maybe we have forgotten how to live and are simply surviving.  

Jesus was different. He lived for his Father God. He loved God, he listened to God, he obeyed God, he trusted God. He did astonishing things in the name of God, he forgave people in the name of God, he healed people in the name of God and he invited people to come to God, so that his Father could be their Father.

But for whatever reason, whether it was his claim to speak for God, or his invitation to people to put their trust in him as the Son of the God; or his claim to be the Messiah, God’s rightful ruler, who would one day establish the kingdom of God – they hated him. They plotted against him, arrested him, subjected him to a mockery of a night trial and crucified him.
But three days later something astonishing happened. The tomb that Jesus was placed in was blown open. God raised him from the dead. For a period of 6 weeks Jesus appeared to his followers. He talked with them on several different occasions, he showed them his wounds, allowed them to touch his wounds; he had a fish breakfast with them. And although he was then taken from them, and they were no longer were able to see him, they were convinced that he was alive. Not only that, but they were convinced that he was with them, that they were part of him and that he was part of them. That he was in them, by his Spirit, helping them to hear God and live for God. And they were convinced that one day he would return and they would see him.

My friends, you are each part of that orchestra. 

The conductor loves you, chose you and he patiently waits for you to freely choose to turn back to him. 
Just because we close our eyes and refuse to look at him, just because we continue to play our tune and not his, it does not mean that he does not exist.
And if we are prepared to humble ourselves, to silence our ego, to really seek him and to listen, we may be able to hear the music of that lone harpist.
It is the music of heaven on earth. It speaks of the things that matter: of friendship and intimacy with God, of his love, welcome, forgiveness; it speaks of restored relationships, of the possibility of transformation, of the defeat of death and of hope for this creation. It speaks of purpose and peace and of eternity.
And if we say yes to the conductor, and to the one who plays this music, then we will receive the greatest of all gifts. For you will know the deep love of God, and the music of heaven will come and live in you.

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