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I admit I didn’t want to write it; two days before Christmas, and a million other things to do.
I admit that writing it was a struggle; I wrestled over what I had to say for a day and a half, and then finally wrote it in the wee hours of the morning on December 23, when sleep eluded me.
I admit that I finally wrote it out of nothing more than a grudging awareness of the need to be obedient.
And you know what? I learned a lesson.
This piece, headlined “The nice road to Santa and the difficult path to Christ” was published over at the Holy Post, the religion blog of the National Post newspaper, December 23. The editor there wrote me on the morning of December 24 to say that it had gone to number one – not just on the blog – but up against every other story on the newspaper’s web site for that day.
Sometimes, lessons are hard learned.
And sometimes, God teaches us lessons, and then gives us a gift.
This lesson came with a gift. And I am grateful.
In the midst of a season that involves so much busyness, bustle and time immersed in crowds, I have a favourite Christmas tradition that soothes my introverted soul.
Every year about this time, I like to take a few minutes off – by myself – to gaze at a photograph in my son’s baby book. And I remember.
It’s a group shot. Seventeen people are dressed ridiculously in bathrobes or burlap, artificial beards covering their chins, towels concealing their hair, dollar store tinsel encircling their heads.
My husband Doug stands up front, draped in an orange tablecloth. I sit beside him, wrapped in a blue shawl.
We face the camera. But to a person, we look not at the photographer, but into a wooden manger on the floor in front of us. There is tenderness in every eye, an expression of wonder on each face.
My infant son lies in the manger on a bed of hay. Eight months old, he sleeps soundly. His face is peaceful, his blond hair shimmering. One small pudgy hand peeks out through swaddling blankets.
I remember the moment captured by the photograph as if it happened yesterday.
We had been asked to play the Holy Family in our church’s Christmas pageant. Mark was the youngest baby in the church at the time, and our choir director wanted a real infant in the performance. All Doug and I would have to do, he said, was walk from the back of the church to the front—in costume and carrying our son—then remain there for some narration and a few carols.
I remember hesitating. Mark was far from a newborn; in fact he was walking, running everywhere, and his high energy levels had earned him the nickname “Mark the Spark”. Did the director want to risk having a baby Jesus who stood, babbled or bounced on his mother’s lap throughout “Silent Night”?
But the director persisted. So we agreed.
Pageant day dawned, and stress descended. My normally cheerful son was teething and feverish and out of sorts; he fussed all day. By the time we donned our costumes at church I was tired and overwhelmed, and Mark—past due for a feeding—was howling in protest. With only minutes to go before our walk to “Bethlehem,” I found a quiet spot to nurse him, and breathed a desperate prayer. (I don’t remember what I prayed, but I imagine it went something like, “Help!!!”)
Mark fell asleep. It felt like my very own Christmas miracle. Cradling him close, I joined Doug just in time to walk down the aisle.
Mark slept on. But he was heavy. Afraid to shift him in case he should wake up, my arms ached. Song after song, reading after reading. I remember looking longingly at the empty manger; it seemed a shame to waste it. So just before the pageant’s end, I gingerly placed him there, and felt relief spread over me as his little body settled into the yielding hay.
Relaxing for the first time that day, I gazed at my son in the soft glow of the candlelit sanctuary. And as I relaxed, it occurred to me that the whole point of our family’s participation in the pageant was to illustrate this one central fact of human history: the Son of God became a baby too. I had been so consumed fretting over my own baby that day, I’d almost missed the lesson: the enormity of the real Christmas miracle.
Divinity became humanity. Willingly. Jesus left the side of his Father in heaven, and clothed himself in human flesh to become a helpless, needy, dependent human baby. A baby who teethed and toddled just like my son. Just like all of us. He did it because of his great love for us. He did it, as Tim Huff writes in Bent Hope, “to promise the hope of abundant life, before he sacrificed his own.”
It’s a wonderful story. I believe it to be true.
May we reveal its truth in the way we live. And in the way we love one another.
Have a very Merry Christmas.
This will be my last post for the season. I’ll be back when life returns to its normal routine in the New Year.