Vol. 6, No. 15
Daughters of Mary Instruction
13 December 2016
Lynn D. Clapper
Last week, my granddaughter had a second- grade assignment that required her to ask me, an older person, what Christmas was like when I was growing up. She had a list of very specific questions…what was your favorite gift, when did you go to Mass, what special candy or treat did you enjoy most? All fun and somewhat easy to answer. But, her last question to me really gave me pause, and my answer to her has remained with me this entire week. Putting her pencil and notepad down, she looked straight at me, opened her arms wide, and said “Of all the memories you have about Christmas, which is your favorite?”
The answer to her question is a memory I have shared with very few people since it happened on Christmas Eve when I was a sophomore in high school. I was returning home from attending Midnight Mass. It was the first Christmas I would attend Mass separately from the rest of the family, as I had a boyfriend who could drive, and he enjoyed the Christmas Eve Mass at Little Flower. I came in at 1:30, or so, to a darkened, quiet house. It was too early for Santa, I knew, but I could not resist peeking into the living room just to check. It is the memory of what I saw there that has stayed with me all these years.
The room, beautifully decorated for Christmas, was lit only by the light of the beautiful tree that we decorated as a family, but that my Mother continued to tweak each time she passed it as she moved through the house. The only sound was the quiet ticking of the hall clock. Mother was sitting in an easy chair gazing up at the Christmas tree. Her expression was one of rapt wonder, and she radiated a sense of total peace.
The moment was so intimate, that I could not bring myself to tell her I was there. She heard my footsteps, however, and turned to me ever so slightly. She said nothing, but only gave me a small, sweet smile.
As we approach the fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear from Matthew how the birth of Jesus came about. He does not provide any of the intimate details of just what it was like inside that cave in the crowded town of Bethlehem. We do not hear from Matthew what Mary and Joseph might have been thinking as, at last, their son was born.
And so, I wonder, as maybe you wonder with me, what would Mary tell us about that night if her second grade granddaughter asked her “What is your favorite Christmas memory?”
Perhaps she would answer that her favorite memory was arriving, at last, in Bethlehem, and the way Joseph worked so hard to find them a safe place for Jesus’ birth.
Perhaps Mary would tell us that her favorite memory was the moment just after Jesus was born, when she and Joseph named him, just as the angel has told them.
Perhaps Mary would reply that her favorite memory was simply their joy in being a new family, that the warmth of their tight circle as they held their son in that cave was not a memory she would ever forget.
But, perhaps, Mary would not answer at all, but give us only a sweet smile in reply. The most intimate details of the night that Jesus was born are forever locked away in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. It was the night of sheep and shepherds, angels and wise men, all in search of the peace that was promised by the birth of a king. It was a night radiant with the light of a rising star that announced the birth of a Savior. It was a night filled with the bright promise of the one who would bring light to a dark world. Emmanuel had come. God is with us.
In the fourth week of Advent we marvel over the account of Jesus’ birth, however the story is told. Matthew focuses on the miraculous word of an angel that announces the unfolding of God’s promise to send a Messiah. Lacy’s beautiful commentary this morning allows us a glimpse not only of the coming of Jesus as he burst into history, but of the graces that came with him that only the Son of God could bring. On that dark and starry night so many years ago, Mary and Joseph’s joy in the birth of their special baby boy, became our joy, as well.
My mother and I never spoke of our encounter that Christmas Eve. But, the next year when I came in after Mass, I looked for her, as I did all the Christmas Eve’s until I married and moved into a home of my own. I was not even sure that Mother paid much attention to that quiet moment we shared each year, until she attached a card to a Christmas present she gave me when I was first married. It was an old card that she had kept, and on its cover was a drawing of a darkened living room lit only by the light of a magnificently decorated tree.
It is only now that I realize that the look on Mother’s face that startled me so on that Christmas Eve when I was a young teenager of 15 was, plain, and simple, a look of Christmas joy. And I like to imagine, that her joy in Christmas each year is the same joy that Mary would have each of us share when we celebrate the birth of her son. And, though we celebrate Christmas year after year, we are hard pressed to remember a specific gift, or party, or any of the events that herald the Christmas season as our favorite Christmas memory. But, joy? Joy is the promise that transcends the thousands of years that mark the story of God’s plan to save the entire human race. Joy is the hope of the ancient Hebrew people of God as they waited for a Messiah. Joy is God’s gift to us in sending his only begotten son, to be born as a baby, and to dwell among us. Joy is John the Baptist as an unborn baby when he hears the voice of Mary, the mother of his savior. Joy is Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary when she understands Mary has believed that what the angel has told her will come to pass. Joy is Mary and Joseph as the chosen mother and earthly father of the Son of God. Joy is the radiant blessing of that special night…a feeling so special that Mary does not describe it in words. For my mother, joy was the shimmering quiet of a Christmas Eve night when Jesus’, Mary’s, and Joseph’s joy for each of us, just for a moment, was Mother’s joy alone. Joy is our finally understanding, that nothing is impossible for God.
As Advent begins to draw to a close, and the preparations for Christmas begin in earnest, we can look back and see how far we have come. As we have tried to imagine the innermost thoughts of all the characters in this incredible story, we have come to realize that only God can fashion a plan for the redemption of an entire human race that can unfold through the birth of a tiny, baby boy. But, only God would draw us into that plan by allowing each of us to begin again each year, and relive the watchful waiting of a people for its savior, and of a mother for the birth of her son. Let us embrace the joyful hope of an ancient people, the joy that defies description for a new mother and her husband on a Bethlehem starry night, and the joy that my own mother showed me that we can all still know for ourselves. Emmanuel has come. God is with us. Joy to the world!