My youngest son asked me the other day if I’ve ever cried sad tears on Christmas. “Oh, no,” I blatantly lied. “I’m filled with joy and wonder every Christmas.”
Ha! The question he should have asked is, “What Christmas haven’t I cried?” By December 25th, lack of sleep, lack of parking places and lack of time regularly combine to push me near, or completely over, the edge of sanity. Under the best of circumstances, (meaning I would have a housekeeper named Alice and a governess named Mary Poppins) running out of ‘Santa wrapping paper’ at midnight on Christmas Eve or burning the wreath-shaped coffee cake on Christmas morning would be distressing enough. But lacking such circumstances, well let’s just say my emotional state is as fragile as the ice that Harry Bailey falls through in, It’s A Wonderful Life.
But as I pondered Casey’s probing question a bit further, I realized that coping with my children ‘s relentless Yuletide third degrees (How many more days? Have you seen my list? Are you sure Santa got our change of address?) or even attempting to master the mathematics of ‘gift equanimity’ are pretty small potatoes. I’m just a big, whiny baby compared to the woman who played a rather significant role in creating the season that turns mothers like me into idealistic grouches … the mother of all mothers … Mary.
Now I freely admit that I have a few romantic notions regarding this holiday, but I’ve got to believe that on that first Christmas Mary had a few of her own. For heaven ‘s sake, she ‘s carrying the Son of God in her womb; she must have had a few daydreams about the birth of her first child. The angel, Gabriel, told her that her unborn child would be a King. At the very least Mary might expect to get a few divine perks.
I remember anticipating a few perks when my first was on the way. Take the proverbial ‘good’ labor room. Remember touring the hospital in the eighth month of pregnancy and ooing and aahing at that one cozy birthing suite, decorated by Martha Stewart? After seeing the ‘good room’, I quickly envisioned the perfect birth for my child. He would enter the world amidst overstuffed chintz pillows, strains of Chopin playing softly with the fragrance of blossoming roses wafting through French doors! Do you know of any women who ever got the ‘good room’?
But back to Mary. It’s safe to say that there’s no woman in history who deserves the ‘good room’ childbirth fantasy more! But any such dreams were dashed by a highly insensitive Roman ruler named Caesar Augustus who had nothing better to do than command everyone under his authority to hoof it back to their birthplace just to get a headcount!
I suppose in Mary’s day, it probably wasn’t couth for women to raise their voices in public, let alone have temper tantrums, but I secretly hope she got her way a time or two with the census takers. I’m hoping that even though she was holy enough to carry God’s son, she was still human enough to use that all-powerful female resource known as ‘crying at the drop of the hat.’
Don’t you think it’s possible that when Mary finally arrived in Bethlehem and gazed at the queue of people waiting to be counted, she just might have used this feminine wile to move her and Joseph to the head of the line? If Highway Patrol Officers can be swayed by the shedding of a tear or two, is it so hard to imagine that Roman Soldiers might be too?
Sadly, innkeepers are apparently made of sterner stuff. Every place in town has hung out its no vacancy sign and Mary is left to rest her weary body in the luxurious lodging of a barn. (His wife is as big as a house with child and old Joe doesn’t have the foresight to book a room?) By this time you can just bet Mary isn’t worrying about the ‘good’ labor room. She ‘d be thrilled if God would simply hold that baby at bay until she could get back to the comfort of her own home, with her midwife … and no livestock … by her side.
But, as is often the case, God’s unusual plan prevails, and the Christ child arrives with more four-legged creatures in attendance than two. And God has a way of reminding this writer that burnt coffee cake and insufficient wrapping paper are a mere distraction to the utterly beautiful and simple season that began with the most unadorned childbirth ever known … and I for one am filled with joy, gratitude and awe.