I went to mass today, a windy walk away since my little church down the street is closed for the day.
I sat in the glorious old building, feet propped on the kneelers (which is probably poor form, but, God and I are pretty tight so sometimes things happen).
My eyes wandered to the poinsettias in the side pews, ready to be placed and arranged as soon as this last day-of-Advent is completed.
Then my mind wandered to my 2013 and all the graces and blessings contained therein: the Camino, so many weddings, a better place at work, good friends, sacramental grace forever and ever amen. And God is still working and the Holy Spirit is still moving and, upon reflection, I realized that I was very, very excited and hopeful about 2014. I’m excited to see how Christ will work, I’m excited to hear His plans and feel His gentle lead stretch me.
Hope. Excitement. Joy.
It’s the promise of the Christ-child, isn’t it? The sweet, sweet Bambino Jesu.
Then came the sign of peace.
The man in front of me turned around and gasped a little, “Oh! Hi.”
Which led me to think he knew me somehow and I searched his face for a clue, but my sister holds the identification skills, not I, so I dropped the case and received communion and prayed some more.
After mass he spoke to me again and I realized who he was.
Back story required.
This year my mother’s friend’s cancer showed up again.
My mother’s friend, but younger than my mother, with long, black hair.
My mom told me in a concerned, quiet tone when I was rustling around the kitchen one day.
The word “cancer” comes with enough to strike fear into your heart as it is.
Cancer returning a third time?
Furrowed brow, heavy heart, silent prayers.
My mother knew her from attending daily mass out in the suburbs. I had met her once, we chatted briefly when I arrived home from work. I think she had seen me act in a play and that dominated the short conversation.
We received a letter, weeks later, on letterhead from a hospice.
She had written to my mother from hospice, “When I die, at my funeral, will you and your daughters pray the rosary?”
(This still moves me to tears).
Weeks later, we went.
We drove to the large, white funeral parlor with the carpeted stairs and the smell of flowers everywhere.
My sister, my mother and I prayed the glorious mysteries in front of her casket, her with the face of a model and the sweet, generous heart of someone who has been touched by God.
Her husband sat in the front row, completing the prayers as we recited them.
It was her husband, tall with the dark eyes, in front of me for mass.
Undoubtedly his 2013 was unimaginably painful.
On the way back to my office I passed many homeless. “Can you give me some change for lunch?” a woman called out, leaning against a marble building with her hood pulled tight around her chin. (I couldn’t. I don’t carry money).
The head pastor at my parent’s church is in the ICU (prayers, please).
This is Christmas, you know?
The church is overflowing with poinsettias and there are wreaths on every pillar…and the giant nativity scene features a world where we had no room for a woman in labor so the Son of God was born in a cave surrounded by dark and poop and dirt.
Welcome to this world, Baby Jesus.
It strikes me that that cave is really, really all we have to offer. We can gild things in gold but, really, all I can offer Jesus is some stupid dirt all, “Aaaaand, this is all I am.”
O, holy night.
Fr. Pio Maria once told me that it could have been different. Redemption could have been great and pompous and trumpets-announcing the soldier-King of heaven who appeared in a flash of light and restored the relationship with the Father and hooray we all can go to heaven.
He didn’t just take away our suffering with a snap of his light-filled fingers.
Rather, he came to join us in our suffering.
This is the story of Christmas.
Elizabeth cries for a child, one lowly woman in a busy world. And, she is heard.
Simeon reads the prophecies until his eyes fail and his beard greys, praying for the Messiah. God comes to him.
Shepherds live a life of poverty in the cold and angels appear crying, “Good news of great joy!”
Because: we’re not alone. We’re not forgotten.
God sees. God hears. God comes.
Oh night divine.
Where are you this Christmas? What has 2013 held? Blessings? Joy? Pain? All of the above?
And Baby Jesus comes. To join us for all of it. For the happy plans for 2014, for those I’ve met, for the man whose wife died, for the patient in the hospital, for the homeless on the street of this cold place.
He comes to join us.
He comes to save us.
He comes to listen to us and cry with us…and to help us dream again.
I don’t understand Christmas. But I do love it. Promises of hope.
I thought about the song today.
“Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh tidings of comfort and joy.”
Both. Together. Comfort because he is here, present. And joy at the realization.
Comfort and joy.
May you know them both.