And the Word was made flesh...
Finally, finally, it is here! The day we celebrate the birth of our sweet Savior.
I have a confession to make...I am a recovering perfectionist. Cliche, I know, but so true. I want things to be perfect, and if they aren’t, I really struggle with it. Having children is rapidly curing me of this, because there is no such thing as perfection with little ones.
Case in point...last night, when we were getting ready to head out to the Christmas Vigil Mass one of the Sisters in our little Domestic Monastery was not happy. Like, not at all. She was raising a bit of a stink (got to live up to her name, after all!). Anyway, the poor love was just exhausted because she didn’t get to have an afternoon nap and only had a short rest and was just all out of sorts. What she needed was a good cuddle from her Mama, but I was more than a little short on patience with her. When all was done and we were finally on our way to Mass, I was beyond frustrated with her. The last thing I wanted to do was cuddle her and help her calm down. She had prevented things from being perfect. We were later than I wanted to be, getting there, and she just wouldn’t be happy, like I wanted.
But, oh, that precious first child of mine continues to lead me to holiness. As soon as I settled in the the pew my frustration washed away, and I looked at her little self, cuddled on her Grammy’s lap. She was so little. And she was just tired. I felt like crying. I was afraid that I had ruined everything with my frustration. Guilt washed over me. I had just ruined Christmas Mass.
But then, I looked at Jesus in the tabernacle, and all of a sudden it hit me. Oh. Right. He came for sinners like me.
Imperfection is kind of the whole point of Christmas, isn’t it? All those movies wax and wane beautifully about the perfect Christmas. We feel like we have to be perfectly healthy, with the perfect gifts bought, perfect clothes, all the family together...there’s a lot of pressure. But, that’s not the point of the Christmas at all.
Think of the first Christmas.
I imagine that Mary was like any expectant mother. When you find out that you’re having a little one, and your time to give birth is drawing near, you spend so much time visualizing what your birth experience will be like. Mary probably had her mental “birth plan” all in place, replaying it in her head over and over again since that day in March when the angel came to her. She would be in her own home, the home her carpenter husband had built them. Her mother and kinswoman would be surrounding her, helping her through her labor. Her mother would wipe the sweat from her brow, and the kinswoman would shuffle along, bringing Mary water and blankets and anything else she needed. At long last, she would push out her son...her firstborn son! His grandmother would wrap him in a blanket, lovingly wiping off his little face, and place him in his mother’s arms. The woman would busy themselves cleaning mother and child, bringing Mary warm, nourishing food and helping she and Jesus start off their breastfeeding relationship. Then, when all had been cleaned up and Mary had rested a bit, one of the kinswoman would beckon Joseph in. He would come in, all of those women smiling lovingly at the new little family, and he would taken the fresh, clean baby in his arms. “A son!” he would laugh. Then, for days after that, Mary’s mother would lovingly wait on her, while she snuggled her newest bundle.
Well, we all know how that went.
Mary found herself miles from any family, except her new husband. Now, I have to say - my husband and I have been through two labors together, and prior to the first one, we took a wonderful birthing class together. He is no expert, but he is a good support to me during labor and in an emergency would probably know what to do. BUT even with his knowledge of labor and delivery I can guarantee for you that he has absolutely no desire to ever deliver one of our babies by himself. He’d rather leave that part to the experts, thank you very much.
Joseph had never taken a birthing class, and I’m guessing he knew nothing about the stages of labor and delivery, how to clean off the baby and tend to the mother post-partum, etc. And even if he were able to tend to her in a rudimentary way, let’s be honest - there is a big difference between the care of your husband and the care given to you by your mother. Any of you out there who are married and have suffered an illness - even the flu or a bad cold - and have had to rely on your husband’s care know exactly what I’m talking about. Men just have a different way of caring than women have. I’m sure Joseph took excellent care of Mary, but I’m sure that his care was very different than the care she would have gotten from her mother!
So here’s Mary - experiencing her first labor and delivery, with a baby who is not her husband’s child, miles and miles from home and family, no house to stay in, and only her husband. Then, the poor man - desperately trying to provide something for her, turns up with a spot in a stable. A stable???
We have kind of a running joke in our family about my impatience toward the Abbot being a sign of true labor. If I’m still being nice and polite to him, I’m probably not in serious labor. If I’m on the verge of snapping his head off...probably in labor. This past labor, he and I had previously talked about the possibility of pacing in the hospital lobby for a while before going up to maternity ward, but I knew my labor was already waaay too advanced for that by the time we arrived. You better believe I told him that in no uncertain terms. I can tell you how I would respond if I was on the verge of giving birth to a baby and the Abbot came up to me and offered me a spot in a stable for my delivery. That moment would have been a catalyst for a huge meltdown on both of our parts. “You what?? First you drag me miles away from my family and now...YOU WANT ME TO HAVE OUR BABY IN A STABLE?! What????” Then he would either get frustrated or be wounded by my outlash, then I’d have a contraction and we’d be lost in that….
But Mary? She took in all in stride. She looked around that damp, cold, smelly stable, knowing that he only (or at least main) midwife/birthing assistant would be her poor husband. Nothing could probably be farther from the birth plan she originally had in mind. But rather than getting angry with Joseph, rather than brooding over the misery of her birth experience, or crying about how imperfect it all was...she took it in stride. She gave birth to her baby boy, and “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and lay him in a manger.” Instead of being visited by various kinswoman, she was visited by rough looking shepherds and strange magi from the east. She responded by “pondering all these things in her heart.”
Nothing turned out the way she’d envisioned, but she knew that didn’t matter. She knew that all that mattered was the little baby in her eyes. She knew that he wasn’t just any baby, either - he was the Son of God, God come in the flesh and soaking himself in imperfection and ruined plans for our sake.
My Christmas - or any other day, for that matter - needn’t be perfect. I don’t need everything to fall into place just so...I only need Christ.
So, even after my frustration passed, even when I spent most of the Christmas Mass out of our pew and up in the choir loft nursing my sweet littlest daughter - and therefore necessarily separated from the rest of my family; even when I heard some unhappy toddler sounds that were unmistakably from my own child down in the pew...not of that mattered. Because Christmas is about children. More pointedly, it is about a child. A sweet, sweet child, born in a most imperfect way who came to teach us what true perfection is.
Merry Christmas, dear ones. May you come to know the peace that only Christ can bring.