So, it’s no secret that this year has been uh...long for me. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, start at the beginning of my blog and catch up...or just read THIS.) One of my main motivations for posting about how rough this year has been is because I’m well-aware that I’m not alone.
Although Christmas can be the most magical time of year, especially for those of us surrounded by children, it can be difficult when the rest of the year has felt very un-Christmasy.
Last week, Will’s 4K class visited a 92-year-old woman in her home and then went on to a local nursing home to sing for the residents. I spent the entire field trip choking back tears (standard operating procedure these days) because a) nothing is cuter than watching four and five-year-olds sing Christmas songs loudly and out of tune, and b) I was so incredibly touched by the sweetness with which the kids treated the elderly people, some of which seemed a little bit scary even to me.
The kids had gathered slipper socks and decorated cards to give small gift bags to the residents. When they were finished singing, Will’s teacher instructed them to take one bag and make sure they didn’t miss anyone in the room. Will was one of the last to get a bag. He scanned the room and found a man, someone all the other kids had missed despite the fact that he was positioned in his wheelchair smack dab in the middle of the room.
The man, clearly one of the oldest people in the room had a few wisps of white hair on the sides of his head. He was dressed warmly, his lap covered with a tattered blanket and his feet covered with thick black socks. He had slept through the entire performance. Will walked over, while the rest of the kids were getting hugs from and posing for pictures with younger, livelier residents, and set the bag on the foot rest of the wheelchair. He turned to look at me (as I bit my lip and willed the tears back into my eye sockets), and I nodded yes to let him know it was okay. He started to walk toward me but turned back and put his hand on the man’s hand. For a few seconds, he stood there smiling at a man whom he’d never met but clearly needed a little Christmas cheer. Patting the man’s hand, Will whispered, “Merry Christmas!” (Holy moly, this kid’s going to do me in.)
Later that day, we were goofing off around the house, and I was recording the kids playing. During their performance, the 4K class had
yelled recited a portion of the Christmas story. At the time, I’d been trying to take pictures while holding several of the kids’ coats, and I wasn’t really listening. I asked Will if he could tell me the scripture that he had said earlier with his class. This is what I got on camera:
In case you were too busy admiring how adorable my son is, this is what he said: “And so it was that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered and she brought forth her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”
How many times have I heard the Christmas story? Well, let’s see. I’m thirty, and I grew up in a “Christian home,” participated in countless Bible studies or home groups, attended a Christian private school for eight years, and attended church regularly my entire life, so let’s just round up and say I’ve heard the story eight million times. But when I watched this back four or five times after uploading it to my computer that night, I found myself getting emotional again. What’s that saying? Out of the mouth of babes? Will had just preached the perfect Christmas sermon that I needed to hear.
This year alone, some of my friends lost or spent the entire year looking for a job. I have watched my friends’ marriages crumble, torn apart by infidelity, apathy, sadness and loss, or a combination of those things. I’ve watched, heartbroken, while other friends struggled to conceive. I have several friends who lost babies. Their babies died. I cry on a regular basis for these friends when I’m praying or just watching my kids sleep. Two friends lost siblings to suicide. One friend’s step-mom was brutally murdered. The wife of one of my husband’s fellow squadron members found out she had cancer shortly after finding out she was pregnant with her second child. Their family lost the baby and then lost her within a few weeks. She was 34, and her son was just a few months younger than Will.
That does not feel like Christmas.
My issues, the daily frustrations and disappointments of Air Force life, marriage, and motherhood, are dwarfed by these monumental tragedies. Most of my prayers for myself and those around me the last year have been along these lines...it’s not supposed to be this way. This is not what I expected. Why is this happening? What am I supposed to do?
It’s not supposed to be this way.
When Will rehearsed his lines for his Christmas program, saying the words I’ve read or heard eight million times, I realized that this is the Christmas story. Or at least it’s the beginning. Any woman who has carried a baby knows that the last month can be miserable. Considering how bad it is in modern times, I don’t even want to think what it was like for Mary.
It had come time for Mary to deliver--no surprise, but then there was this: there was no room in the inn. There was no room in the inn. I have to think that Mary prayed the same kind of prayers I’ve been praying...it’s not supposed to be this way. This is not what I expected. Why is this happening? What am I supposed to do? It’s not supposed to be this way.
But what does the story tell us? It says she swaddled him and laid him in a manger. Because that’s what we do when life shatters our expectations--we do what makes the most sense for those we love and hope for the best.
When Will recited this scripture, I felt comforted by Mary’s predicament for a moment and then thought--then what? What did she do after things didn’t go as expected?
So, I googled the passage and read through the second chapter of Luke, and this is what I found. At the same time that Mary was feeling frustrated, exhausted, and confused, there were angels singing. Angels were singing. Some versions of the Bible call it a “multitude of heavenly hosts” or a “choir of angels.” Almost all the versions say that they were “praising God.” While Mary rested in a barn surrounded by animals, undoubtedly overwhelmed by the whole birth experience, there were angels praising God on her behalf.
When the shepherds ran to Bethlehem to tell Mary and Joseph what they had heard from God--that the prophecies of a Messiah had been fulfilled--they didn’t find Mary cleaned up and in the honeymoon suite at the inn because a vacancy had come open in the days after Jesus’ birth. No, they found her still in the stable. With confirmation of what they heard, the shepherds left, telling everyone they met along the way. When Mary was just trying to get through the first few days with a newborn, someone else was telling her story. The Message goes so far as to say they were "glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told."
But here’s the part that was most comforting to me. Verse 19 tells us that she “treasured up these things and pondered them in her heart.” The Message reads, “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.” What a strange, tiny detail to include in an otherwise magnificent story. We have a multitude of heavenly hosts telling the story of a long-awaited Messiah in a tumultuous time in history, and yet, the author of the story thought it prudent to let us know how Mary was processing it all.
I have no doubt that Mary was still processing the meaning behind her personal experience with the Christ child’s birth on the day that she watched her child die. I wonder how many times Mary said in her lifetime, “This is not what I expected. It’s not supposed to be this way.”
And yet, two thousand years later choirs continue to sing and people are still running to tell everyone they meet about the birth of her child because even in the moments of our lives that don’t make any sense, the times when all we can do is keep things to ourselves, deep within ourselves, there is something much bigger than ourselves at work.
Nowhere in the story does it say that Mary suddenly felt better because everything made sense, but her story became the prologue to what has been branded the greatest story ever told. My prayer this Christmas season is for all the people who find themselves still stuck in the stable with no room in the inn. I pray that you find comfort in knowing that it’s okay to hold your story dear, deep within yourself with the promise that your story hasn’t yet ended.
Much, much love to all! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!