Christmas music from the Rat Pack still provides some of my favorite sounds of the Christmas season. Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, and of course, Dean Martin formed part of the soundtrack of my childhood and, particularly, the holiday soundtrack of those early days. And yet, as we head into the season of Advent this Sunday, it's a song outside of a Rat Pack Christmas that is letting its melodies roll in my heart and mind: Dean Martin's "Ain't That a Kick in the Head."
In the song, Dean Martin is crooning about love and the suddenness of it all. He's talking about how kissing a girl took him by surprise and opened his eyes to parts of life that they had previously, presumably, been closed to. By the end of the song, Dean is singing about how the woman he kissed at the beginning of the song is now talking marriage. "Tell me quick," he sings, "Ain't love a kick in the head?" The phrase, of course, was used at one time in history to describe, "something surprising or something that suddenly makes you realize something."
The season of Advent is our "kick in the head." It is the time of the church year that surprises us and opens our eyes to something new...at least it's intended to do so. And yet, more often than not, the first Sunday of Advent especially feels more like a kick in the teeth than a kick in the head.
So listen, I know that Advent just days following Thanksgiving feels jarring. It feels like an abrupt U-turn. It sometimes even feels like an outpatient procedure without any anesthetic. But what if the disorientation and the whiplash nature of it all is about opening our eyes to something new? Or surprising us with something new or new to us? What if Advent is just the "kick in the head" we need to get through these longer nights and colder days? What if the message of this season is simply to prepare to be surprised?
I don't know, but I think this year I'm going to lean in and find out. I'm going to take the whiplash and the kick-in-the-teeth feelings I get every year during the first Sunday of Advent and let them be signposts for surprise--for something new--for something I have yet to realize about life, faith, myself, or those around me. I'm going to wait and see and prepare my heart for whatever this season has to teach me. I'm going to be present to the presence, and I'm going to invite you all to join me to see what we might realize together.
Tell me quick, ain't THAT a kick in the head?
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.