"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel"--which means, "God with us."
It is an astonishing thing to consider--the universe bursting at the seams of human flesh; minute hands with lightning in their fingertips, clutching a broken world with the assurance that we were no longer alone, that we too could be changed.
They are mostly painful, those first steps. This Christmas I have friends sitting at tables without a drink in their hand for the first holiday in a long time and what should have been an exhilarating experience, in fact feels more like getting shot out of a rocket; the world unfamiliar and without handlebars.
When he was 68 my father went back to school, a place where in an earlier life he'd been told he was stupid--the 1940's term for dyslexia--but this was no mission for the faint of heart. He would have to ask for help. He might be humiliated. He would have to use a graphing calculator, for crying out loud. At the end he had a new career, though the greater gift was ours. "We have no idea what wonders lie hidden in those around us," wrote Anne Nelson in her play, The Guys. But that day we got a glimpse.
My mother walked back into a classroom at age 50 after 25 years as a stay-at-home mom. She cried every day for weeks, certain that this could not be the path, so dark was the way. Yet, these days, hers is the name most often written on the dotted line. The one parents use when they request the teacher they want their tiny preschoolers to have, the ones with learning issues and speech delays, behavior problems, and sometimes crushing poverty. And there she is in their midst, each gentle touch and insightful instruction conveying the same message, "The climb is not too hard. Here's a flashlight."
It is a time of year when we crave the familiar--people, places, rituals, food--we want things we can depend on...and feel their absence like a phantom limb. What is wrong with us? we think. We look nothing like the Christmas in the picture.
Of course the Christmas in the picture was a few poinsettias short of ideal.
I've often wondered how Mary felt that night. If, as they wandered from inn to inn, contractions increasing and no midwife in sight, she ranted at God as I fear I might have done, "You told me I was chosen and this is the best You can do? Lemme tell ya, this is not what I signed up for. THIS IS NOT WORKING OUT."
And then there He was.
In the midst of the chaos and confusion, lavish gifts and unshowered men, did she know He would take her on the ride of her life? Do we? Let us open the gifts we've been given, stiff new jeans and lives that don't fit right, willing ourselves to endure the unfamiliar until it fits us like a glove. Until we too, are transformed.