It seems cliched, somehow, but I can’t help feeling that I identify in some ways with Mary this year as my own baby grows inside of me. This sense of anticipation, of awaiting, of knowing that God is up to something but not really understanding what that something might be.
Of course, in all reality, I would not dare to compare myself to the mother of God, as such comparison could only show how very far I fall. Still, perhaps because of the stirrings of new life, perhaps because of the heartaches and challenges this year brought, this particular Christmas feels different than those that have gone before it.
Our plans change unexpectedly in the days leading up to Christmas, and the days of rest at the end of the year, those that I had planned on using for reflection and prayer and thought, for writing and processing and trying to wrap my mind around the events of the past year and the promise of the year to come – those days have a different look to them now. Not quite so solitary, not quite so much time for introspection. Less energy for me, and more for others. Christmas day itself has a different feel, a different routine and sound and set of activities than perhaps it would have had otherwise, than perhaps it has had in the past, and I admit that a part of me – the baser part of me – feels a slight resentment at this, a melancholy for what might have been.
I take a moment to sit in the sun on the deck on Christmas day, to think a bit, to peck out a post. And I realize that unexpected changes are not always bad things, that sometimes there are ways to grow and learn and show love and that really, overall, I am glad things worked out the way they did in this particular instance.
On the afternoon of December twenty-fourth (Christmas Eve, of all days), I receive a text. The details aren’t important, really, and they certainly aren’t a surprise, but still, its message breaks my heart all over again and brings an anger bubbling to the surface, an anger I thought was no longer a part of my life. Despite my efforts to dispel it, to forget, to remind myself of the new life inside of me and all the blessings I have received, it sits there, brooding, in the back of my mind, and the old questions keep coming to mind. I think of those who have talked about God’s will, of those who tell me that His plans are so much better than my own, and a part of me questions whether those who say these things to me think so little of us and our home and our family, that the current state of things could in any way be better than how they might have been.
We attend a Christmas Eve service at a local church, and amid the familiar lyrics of peace and goodwill and glory and holiness, the anger and the hurt simmer there, just beneath the surface though I try so hard to immerse myself in the wonder of God-made-flesh. Interspersed with the Christmas carols, we sing one of the popular new choruses making its way through contemporary Christian music – “King of heaven, rise up. Who can stand against us? You are strong to save in your mighty name” – and the lyrics stick in my throat, and I fall silent, for the answer pops into my mind, bright red and blaring and having no place among the messages of peace and joy and hope and love. “Who can stand against us? A foolish teenager with a pride problem, that’s who.”
The message for this Christmas Eve service is about mess, about ugliness, about pain, about how Christ came into a broken world to redeem it. The pastor speaks about how we try to whitewash things, try to pretend that everything is perfect, but the reality is that the first Christmas, just like our own lives, just like this world we inhabit, was far from the shining, spotless picture we like to paint. And I think of how very broken things are, how much pain there really is, and I wonder about that baby in the manger and the angels filling the sky with glory, and a part of me asks what happened when the angels left, when the light faded. Where is the redemption? When will it come?
He closes by reading the story from Luke, the one with so many familiar phrases, the one that those of us who have grown up in the Church know so very well. And the anger and the sadness rise up again, for there should be a chubby-cheeked nine-month-old baby girl here on my lap, hearing these words for the first time.
As is tradition, we sing “Silent Night” at the end of the service. Or rather, the band sings it, and those around me join in, and I stand still, biting my lip, trying and failing to hold back the tears, these tears that seem to come so easily these days, that are so very difficult to control. We move forward to light a candle and I cannot contain them and they roll down my cheeks and I bury my face in Jonathan’s chest.
There’s an old Christmas Carol, the lyrics of which were written during the American Civil War, which has meant much to me this season, and, though there are moments when I have a hard time doing so, I cling to the promise of the last verse.
Somehow, despite everything (or, perhaps, because of it) the opening sentences of the gospel of John strike me as some of the most beautiful words ever written.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the .Father, full of grace and truth. -John 1:1-14