I haven't written much about Christmas, but I've been thinking about it a lot. Some people may know and giggle appreciatively or derisively at the fact that I've been listening to Christmas music since mid-October. And now, for reasons both experimental, spiritual, psychological and emotional, I'm trying to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas which begin on Christmas. So, when it's all said and done, my Christmas season will have spanned about four months; a literal season.
While there's a lot I could reflect on in regards to Christmas this year, there are two specific events that are impossible not to connect and wonder about. I'm not sure the best way to share them or really what I want to say, but I want to present them anyway. I also need to be sensitive to some privacy issues, so I'll do my best here.
The first event takes place on Christmas day in the evening. Enjoying the winding down of a wonderful meal at a friend's family's home, I wonder aloud "When do the games begin?" The answer, to my surprise, is that the game portion of the evening is being pushed back an hour or so because the game officiator (father of the house) has to go deliver a baby. He's on call. So a Christmas Party is interrupted by the birth of a new baby. How appropriate.
The second event begins on Christmas Eve. A young woman is part of a Christmas play. She dances the role of Mary every night. This year, her role of Mary is even more fitting because she's pregnant. Today, on Christmas Eve, she starts having contractions during the show. She heads off to the hospital. This would be another adorable annecdote, were it not for the fact that she's only in her second trimester. By Christmas, she has lost her baby. This will be her Christmas story for this year and every year to come.
Tonight, hearing the songs of that Christmas play, every lyric that sings of birth, the beauty of a baby, the gift of life, is singed with tragic irony. The singers must feel it too, though the audience thinks only of the nativity story. How will these songs sound to this mother who lost her child on the day we celebrate what is arguably the most famous birth in history?
It's no secret that Christmas brings up complex emotions, likely whether you celebrate it or not. The whole country seems to light up and demand that you do to. So what do you do with the empty manger? It's so different than the empty tomb. What do you do with the gifts you hate? Is it better than not receiving any? What do you do with the family you want to hide from? What do you do for those who have no family?
The glow of Christmas seems at times to shine the light on our deepest hurts and fears. Your unfulfilled hopes burn that much more cynically when you're surrounded by propaganda of love and joy.
But this year, I'm trying to cling to the hope of Christmas. The mysterious, chaotic dichotomy of divine life born in the stench of animal shit. Beauty cradled in poverty, A teenage girl nursing the Ancient of Days. Two mothers in the hospital on Christmas: one with a lifetime of birthday parties to plan, another, with unanswerable questions to face.
These are the images that stay with me even as I walk around shouting "Ding Dong Merrily On High" to anyone that will let me. The images stay with me as my eyes go dreamily aslant at the sight of a row of trees with white lights in their branches. The images are there as I sit by a fountain in the dark, weeping over my own heartache, wishing it was over. The images are there as I see 2008 approaching. The images are there as I kneel to take communion.
O come, O come Emmanuel...