Her wrinkled hands touched the tree
as though she held eighty Christmases in a touch.
And then she turned to us and smiled
and thanked us that she was here now,
celebrating with us the birth of her Lord.
Turning again to the tree, she drew from her bag
the gifts that she offered,
and bending slightly, she placed them under the tree.
No gold, no frankincense, no myrrh
were greater gifts than hers
who gave all that she had
in celebration of his birth.*
*“In Celebration of his birth” Ann Weems Kneeling in Bethlehem.
This Christmas there will be a photo of my parents near our Christmas tree. We had hoped to be together this year, but they are instead with the Lord they loved and served for so many years. Their deaths have completely changed Christmas for me this year, as I reflect on becoming (in a very real sense) an orphan. So the table will be smaller, we will miss Mum’s homeliness in her kitchen, and Dad’s silly antics (and his monobrow!) There will be moments of pause and sadness and tears. I won’t deny that a deep sadness will accompany me this Christmas.
The four advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love are important in their essence because they touch our hearts at times when we are hope-less, rest-less, sad, and without love. Their importance is raised off the pages of a book or liturgy precisely when they are most desperately needed. Christmas is one of those times.
So will that grief be the only story in my Christmas? I hope not. Because Christmas is not primarily about my happiness, nor is its purpose to fulfil my needs. Family is important at Christmas, but Christmas is not ‘about family’. While children bring delight and wonder and boundless joy, Christmas is not ‘for children’. Christmas is not only to be observed when my world is complete enough, I am worthy enough or when I feel like it.
The Christmas story urges us to take a moment to lift our gaze off ourselves. Whether we look the baby in the face with the shepherds, or follow the wise men and generously give something of value to another, or gaze in stunned wonder with Mary and Joseph at the scene of millions of people at worship … the Christmas story does not seek to deny my grief, but to touch its reality with hope, peace, joy and love.
Can I allow the Christmas story to transform my story – like the woman in Ann Weems’ poem who lovingly, joyfully and carefully participated in Christmas for others, and for One Other?
I hope that this year, The One who gave everything might meet your gaze or your grief or your doubt with hope, peace, joy and love.