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On Eastern Stars and West Side Stories

On Eastern Stars and West Side Stories

An advent reflection by Dea Podhajsky


Advent is my favorite liturgical season. The word advent comes from the Latin term adventus meaning "arrival" or "coming.” The word usually is associated with the coming of something of great importance. This year Advent extends from November 28th to December 24th and I am ready.

I love the season for the music, the decorations, the lights, the food, the anticipation, and most of all the Christmas story with its message of hope, peace, goodwill, and love. A controversy in some churches is whether it is okay to play Christmas carols during Advent. Some contend that staying true to the themes of the liturgical calendar requires holding off on Christmas music until Christmas Eve. I am OK with Christmas songs during Advent. In fact, I immerse myself in them. I listen to them in my car, on my computer, and as I bake cookies, write cards, and wrap presents.

Given my music binging during Advent, it isn’t surprising that the foundation for my reflection is two songs. Studies have shown that stress and anxiety during the months of November and December often cause people to become blue. The Christmas story itself has a dark side. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem to fulfill a government mandate. The stable was not an ideal location for having a baby and after Jesus’s birth the family was forced to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. As written in Matthew, “When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up!’ he said. ‘Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him’."

My first foundational song comes from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It is one of my favorite carols. It does not hide the less than Pollyanna aspects of the world yet still contains a powerfully hopeful message. After the death of his wife and the wounding of his son in the Civil War, Longfellow was inspired to write the poem we now know as the Christmas carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. 

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

And the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir they're singing (peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men


And in despair I bowed my head
"There is no peace on Earth, " I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them? (Peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men


Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on Earth)
(Peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men


The world is not idyllic. Death, war, hatred, poverty, injustice, and despair are with us; but like Longfellow I know that God is not dead, nor is he asleep. Hope, faith and love will see us through and help us survive an imperfect world. Let the bells ring loud and deep.


This year I have something besides the celebration of Jesus’s birth that I’m looking forward to. On December 10th Steven Spielberg’s West Side story is being released in theaters. West Side Story is my favorite Broadway musical. Its themes, as reflected in its songs with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, show vastly different elements of the human experience ranging from the joy of love to the toxicity of racism. America, chronicles negative aspects of life for immigrants. Gee Officer Krupke catalogues the causes of juvenile delinquency. While songs such as One Hand, One Heart, Tonight and Maria emphasize love. A Boy Like That, a duet sung by Maria and Anita after the death of Maria’s brother Bernardo, contains both the tragedy of his death, caused by a world dominated by racial bigotry, and the power of love.

Anita begins

A boy like that who'd kill your brother,
Forget that boy and find another,
One of your own kind,
Stick to your own kind!

Maria counters with

I love him, we're one;
There's nothing to be done,
Not a thing I can do
But hold him, hold him forever,
Be with him now, tomorrow
And all my life!

After Maria’s musical denial of hate, the two join to sing the final lines, “When love comes so strong, there is no right or wrong, your love is your life.”

There is no right or wrong,
Your love is your life 

Like the Christmas story, West Side Story and life itself, the world is messy, and people are flawed. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Bishop Michael Curry can be our guiding star.

King wrote, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Desmond Tutu taught us that “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Michael Curry powerfully and prolifically writes of the power of love. “The way of love is the only way to freedom… It is how we stay decent during indecent times.”

Something's Coming  from West Side Story is my second selection.

Could be!
Who knows?
There’s something’ due any day;
I will know right away
Soon as it shows
It may come cannonballin’
Down through the sky
Gleam in its eye
Bright as a rose!
Who knows?

It’s only just out of reach
Down the block, on a beach
Under a tree
I got a feelin’ there’s a miracle due
Gonna come true
Comin’ to me!

Could it be? Yes, it could
Something’s coming, something good
If I can wait!
Something’s comin’, I don’t know what it is
But it is
Gonna be great!

Something’s Coming Music by Leonard Bernstein Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim


I’m ready to embrace the hopeful, to celebrate the love, to anticipate the future. It’s “gonna be great” because “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.” Advent, I’m so ready!