I do hope your Christmas has a little touch
of eternity in among the rush and pitter-patter and all.
It always seems such a mixing of this world and the next – but that after all is the idea! --Evelyn Underhill (1936)
The night of Madonna and Child is upon us, but it’s certainly not silent. By now the rushing around has almost ceased, (one more dash to the drugstore should do it) and you’ve gotten over discovering the presents are not arriving in time, as promised and for which you paid a whopping express shipping fee. Instead, you’ve offered thanks that you don’t work anywhere in Customer Relations and sent off a prayer to all those who do. Blessed be, Mother Christmas.
Soon the gathering together shall begin in a cyclone of convivial chaos. Mother Christmas arrives, as She always does in the darkness of Christmas Eve whether we are ready or not. After a brief visit of only one day, She will depart. This is why her Gift of Christmas Present is so precious, meant to be cherished and celebrated with custom and ceremony.
As I write, I’m listening to my favorite holiday song “Mary, Did You Know?” from my favorite Christmas album, Kathy Mattea’s Good News. This contemporary carol occupies a special place in my heart because it’s wrapped in my favorite Christmas memory. What did sweet Mary know that wondrous night? Hopefully and gratefully, the new Madonna knew only the joy of becoming of a mother—which is different for each of us but eternally universal. She didn’t know the future, none of us do but all she had was all she needed. Her child, safe in her arms.
My first Christmas as a new Mother is my favorite Christmas memory. My darling girl was just a few weeks old and I was nursing her by the lights of the Christmas tree. Suddenly, she paused and looked up straight into the windows of my soul. After the longest stare, she broke into a huge grin. Newborn babies smile instinctively from contentment, but this was her first smile of recognition. I know you! You’re my mother! Perhaps she was having her first reunion from our past lives. I know I was experiencing my future perfect promise. My real Christmas miracle: we birthed each other.
Over the years as she grew in grace and wisdom before Heaven and her astonished mother, the baby I’d held that night would grow up to help a blind woman see again; restore hearing to my ears with the lilt of her laughter, calm with the touch of her hand the storms of discouragement and discontent raging in my heart. This Babe taught me that what we call a miracle, Heaven calls Love. Blessed be, Mother Christmas.
Perhaps because the world constantly requires women to rise to every occasion, walk on water and then turn the water into wine, we become experts at doing what the world says can’t be done and we don’t even notice the miracles we midwife for others. The oil for one night burns in the temple for eight, the widow’s mite stretches until the end of the month; the leftovers of loaves and fishes becomes a feast to be shared. Hurts are healed with a kiss; the shoe that cannot be found anywhere is now on its owner’s foot walking out the door; and the mid-term science project that must be finished in less than twelve hours (and this is the first you’ve heard of it) goes to school in the morning. Our mysterious, magical and mystical invocation of “Everything will be all right” comes true even if it’s different than we had hoped for.
So I ask you to ponder this tale, as I do each Advent. The Nativity unfolded the way it did because one ancient night long ago, an exhausted and harried Innkeeper’s wife stopped long enough to be moved by the power of Divine Compassion. A homeless family. A frightened teenage girl about to give birth to her first child. No room in the inn. But an older woman who would midwife the miracle that would change the history of the world. Do you really believe that the inn that Joseph and Mary arrived at was accidental?
Forgive me if you must, but I always feel the need to gently point out that on the first Christmas Eve, God the Father was in Heaven. God, the Great Mother, was on earth. Angels, shepherds, and Magi always get star billing. What about the Innkeeper’s wife? In my heart’s version of the tale, I see the older woman leaving the crowded, rowdy dining room and rushing to her bedroom, opening up a trunk, and bringing forth her best, making sure that all she had would be all that the mother and baby would need. She gathers in her arms linen and silk, the blankets from her own bed, her favorite shawl.
In my imagination, I can also see the young girl’s grateful smile, hear her sigh of relief, taste the salt in her tears. As I hug my own daughter, I can feel the reassurance as both women found comfort in each other’s presence. I know that the older woman’s sacred gift of generosity and the younger woman’s gratitude are not insignificant footnotes to the Greatest Story Ever Told. It’s how the Wonder unfolded. It’s the tale our ravished hearts are always longing to hear: Generosity, Gratitude, Grace. Blessed be, Mother Christmas.
“On Christmas Eve love is clothed with visible vestments, with gifts and written words, with holly-wreaths and flowers and candles. The love that through the year is silence by busy-ness is expressed in terms of tangible beauty,” Abbie Graham wrote in 1928. “As I watch the Christmas candles burn, I see in them a symbol of the Great Love which dipped a lustrous spirit into human form so that the world in its darkness might be illumined and made beautiful.” Blessed be, Mother Christmas.
It’s not heresy to believe that on that Holy Night, the lustrous illumination that helped light the world’s darkness wasn’t coming only from the Child.
There were also two women in that stable.
Sending dearest love and blessings to you and yours and praying that you will discover your own Christmas miracle.