I love it that Christmas falls on Sunday this year. I awoke this morning with an urgency about getting to church, even though eleven o’clock is hours away. This year, Christmas will be different—this year, I finally understand it. That baby in the feed trough is God—but his tears are salty, just like mine.
It has taken me most of the year to get to this place of communion with God. It’s been a rough year, ever since…well, since the end of January, when I not only stumbled, but fell into a deep, dark hole. At the end of the fall, I brushed myself off and staggered away from Troy—I don’t deserve him, and he should have a wife who can keep her promises.
But today has felt holy from the moment I awoke, as gently as if someone had whispered in my ear. So I put on my black wool slacks and a soft red sweater and head for church. I plan to arrive just a few heartbeats late and to sit in the last pew. Although the good people of my congregation have drawn me to their collective bosom, today I hope that no one will talk to me. I want to close my eyes and listen to the Baby cry.
I want to forget, for just a minute or two, the small gift on my dining room table. It’s from Troy—it arrived ten days ago—and it scares me so much that my muscles weaken when I walk by it.
Alone in my seat in the shadows, I drink in the words of the carol:
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
I long for those glad and golden hours, and I believe that in this newfound peace with my Savior, I will have them. Well, golden hours, anyway. Glad hours—they’re not for me, not any more.
And yet—and yet—there is that gift on the table.
After church, I heat a mug of apple cider and stir it with a bark-y cinnamon stick. Three packages have arrived this week that don’t make me tremble, two from friends in my home town and one from a distant cousin. I peel back the wrappings and feel a warm glimmer of gladness: they know me well. A literary British novel…a tin of peppermint chocolates…a framed impressionist postcard. Merry Christmas to me!
For the next few hours, I find small and lovely tasks to distract me from Troy’s gift. I read the second chapter of Luke aloud from my Bible, enunciating each word like a Shakespearean actor. I rifle through my basket of Christmas cards. I savor a piece of candy, and then another. I listen to a CD of madrigal Christmas music, and sing the alto part.
When I walk past the table to turn off the stereo, I brush my hand along its surface and accidentally-on-purpose touch the gift. Troy’s gift. I know, as surely as I know that Mary kissed her Baby, that Troy has been praying for me every day since I left. Your prayers worked, Troy. I’m doing fine, and I’ve come to faith. But I can’t come back to you, I can’t. Every time I saw you, I’d be reminded of how I betrayed you. And I don’t deserve the kind of happiness we could have…
And now the small package is in my hands and I’m turning it over to find the tape and I’m pulling at the paper and I’m crying and crying and crying because it’s us, it’s Troy and me on our honeymoon, and Troy’s eyes are saying I will always love you and I’m stumbling through the living room to the closet to find my coat and I’m laughing because I know that my nose will be red and swollen when Troy opens the door to find me on his porch holding this picture, this picture of love that I’ll never deserve but I’ll take it, I’ll take it, I’ll take it.
Merry Christmas to me.
“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, vs. 3, public domain
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