Life’s biggest moment seem to happen on idle Tuesdays. Or late Wednesday afternoons. Or Friday nights on the brink of Saturday mornings. Births. Deaths. Congratulatory emails. Accidents. Many of the moments that irrevocably change the course of our lives are not scheduled nor expected.
Such was last Tuesday around lunchtime. My mom received a call from my brother, John. They were on the way to the hospital. My sister-in-law, Sarah, had developed preeclampsia. They needed further tests to determine the risk to Sarah and the baby. By the late afternoon, Sarah’s condition had significantly worsened and the baby was showing increased signs of distress. They took Sarah in for an emergency caesarean section.
Baby girl was born at 2lbs. and 5oz. and was nine weeks premature.
During those restless hours on Tuesday and in the uncertain days that have followed, part of me wanted to scream. “Really 2020, you haven’t caused enough havoc, you had to sneak this one in at the end?!?!”
Yet the other part of me was extraordinarily calm. Rationally, there are some reasons for my reaction. I hoped to be a steady presence against the backdrop of my brother’s anguish. I also recognized that my best friend had been diagnosed with preeclampsia and had subsequently delivered prematurely. Her son is now a healthy, thriving 4 year-old. Yet, it took me several days to realize that my sense of peaceful calm had nothing to do with any of that. It had everything to do with a profound sense of trust in God.
When I stopped long enough to pray and to look, I saw the imprint of God’s love all around us. A baby. Born into extraordinary circumstances. During Advent. Also, Sarah and her side of the family are Jewish. Baby girl was born just days before the beginning of Hanukkah, a celebration of God’s sustained miracle of oil during the Maccabean revolt. The Maccabean Jews were eventually able to overcome their oppressors, retake Jerusalem and rededicate the Temple to God.
The Scripture readings during the Advent and Christmas seasons offer us so many enduring images and metaphors – perhaps none more memorable than the defeat of light over darkness.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone.”
-Isaiah 9: 1
In the year of so much suffering, pain and loss, we can easily descend into darkness.
And yet…as Christians, we are rooted in the hope of the Incarnation. Our God, who could have come to the world in any form, chose to be birthed into vulnerability. He born into a nameless manager on a day and a time which we will never precisely know. God could very well have come into the world on an idle Tuesday night, with the shepherds nodding off in the fields near to him. They and so many others would have first been unaware that the Savior of the world had come among them.
When the shepherds were first greeted by the angel of the Lord, the Gospel of Luke suggest that they were overcome by fear. The angel reassures them not to be afraid. When the shepherds found Mary and Joseph, they likely witnessed a mother wearied not only by childbirth but by long travel and the sting of the inn’s rejection. I often wish that the Great Masters and our modern Nativity sets offered us more than the image of a beatific mother and a perfect infant, who conspicuously looks like a well-fed 6 month-old.
I wish we saw the mess and the muck. I wish we saw Mary’s eyes highlighted by dark circles. I wish we saw Joseph soothing the baby Jesus while Mary rests.
We are tempted to editorialize the Nativity out of reverence. Yet in doing this, we risk losing the humanity of this sacred scene. We risk losing the awe of the shepherds, who recognized God within the unlikely and improbable. We miss seeing the miraculous among the ordinary.
May you and your families be inspired by the hope of the Incarnation during this Advent and Christmas seasons…
As for my baby niece, she has been breathing steadily on her own since birth. She is also quite hungry and the NICU has had to increase her feedings. John and Sarah wisely named her Elinor, which is often translated from the Greek as sun ray or light. She is indeed our light in the darkness.