It seems like yesterday Mrs. Ruby was asking me if I had a boyfriend. I was probably twenty-five. No, I said apologetically. Well don’t be in any hurry, your life will change soon enough, she said. And though she always did have the air of a prophet about her, I remember thinking, You don’t know about me, Mrs. Ruby. I live alone in the land where nothing changes.
My first reflection on this memory was to think what a silly girl I was. I was mostly happy and this was a passing morbid thought. But the truth is, I was a deep thinker and facing reality. To know now how quickly everything did change is to only speak to the surprising wonder that sometimes falls upon this old world.
Praying for a dear friend this morning, I asked that she would get past a heart-breaking time, then stopped myself. I had said something like that the other day to a wise woman. No, not past, she said, through. So I took back what I said before, and prayed her through this time, that such tender compassion would rain down on her and make her an even more welcome home for the weary than she was before, that there would be such a sweet deep healing inside that she would be glad for the wound, and that this surprising reversal inside herself, this good news of the Savior-King, would be surest thing in her life all her days, come what may.
Christmas is a fragile time, as it should be. My parents house doesn’t have central heat, nor does my own house now, and so you find yourself in a coat and hat in one corner, only to strip down to your long-johns on the other side of the room. You chase the sunshine coming through the glass and lie down in its puddle while it lasts.
This is tender Christmas-time: In my memory, it is melting your house-shoes on the wood stove, huddled too close. It is running into the kitchen to hug your grandmother’s backside. She gives you a bowl of drippings because she says everyone should be as round as she is. She is soft and this sounds good. It is dancing on your grandfathers feet to Nat King Cole. It is taking great care to reposition all the nativity characters to face the baby Jesus after someone moved them around again. It is singing dramatically over the bannister, God bless the rulers of this house and let them long to reign! It is the little chocolate behind every paper window.
It is, in time, a keener awareness of familial brokenness and loneliness and the passing of these memories into shadow. It is the courage to resurrect all the good and make new traditions, the effort to stand over eighteen eggs for three hours, to make gifts with what you have, to walk in the outside world until your nose freezes over. It is now to me, the sweetest time of comfort, knowing that the Savior came as a baby to save my own baby, and that he honored the fragile mothers everywhere by needing one desperately, like the Lord of the Universe never needed anyone before or since.
We said we wouldn’t tell anyone about the baby at first. It is nice, sometimes, to have a secret. It is much nicer, I think, to give the secret away. So the day the baby’s two-chambered heart started beating, my own heart was so full, that I went into a baby store, just to walk around for the first time, not as friend or cousin or aunt, but as mother and I told a complete stranger the news. She rejoiced. A wonderful thing has happened to you, she said, which is true. My baby is wonderful. When are you due? July, I said. My son was born in July, and out he stepped from a rack before us, embarrassed to have been a baby nine years ago. Once upon a time, on a cold rainy November morning, his little heart started beating too. He lowered his head to me, in an awkward sort of bow, and moved away, embarrassed again by such an old fashioned gesture, him, so cool in his spiked hair and Nike hoodie. He honored me, because of the baby, but not my baby.
He honored me, whether he knew it or not, because the Lord was a baby, hidden deep in a young woman’s body two thousand years ago. This Baby belongs to everyone who seeks him. He lives still to swallow up all sorrow and to usher in a new and glorious morning.
And so wherever you are, Christmas is for you, and I wish you through it, that you would consider it and wrestle with it, and not let it pass you by, until it bless you. My dear readers, Merry Christmas. Like Gladys Herdman in my favorite Christmas story, hear me saying, HEY! Unto you a child is born! And feel the jab in your ribs, because the days are shorter than ever before and the nights are too long without the gospel and sometimes even with it, but not for long, not forever.