[The following has been amended to include some thoughts from Christmas day.]
It’s Christmas Eve. After seven years of marriage and the making of my own family, Christmas Eve still feels a little blank without my sisters and parents. Granted, they’ve multiplied in numbers and the reality of being in the same house with six kids under the age of six as well as four couples and my grandpa wouldn’t exactly harken to the Christmases of years past, but it would still be great (in measure). O wait. It is the same, only I used to be one of the kids.
The excitement of Christmas coupled with the change in schedule makes for a manic Jonah. Crazy in the body, as we like to say. (Click HERE to see him “reading” and spinning in the kitchen this morning.) John’s got some manic energy of his own. He’s hanging blinds in the playroom, and every so often I hear “shit” or a groaning kind of sigh drift my way. We are already calculating all of the ways the blinds will be destroyed by the dogs and boys. What we won’t do for a little privacy and draft control (the playroom used to be the garage, and it’s downright chilly in there for most of the winter).
The cookies are made. Today we’ve been delivering. G was raring to go. “Coo-kie! Coo-kie!” he kept chanting, ala the furry blue monster. Though I don’t think he even knows who the furry blue monster is. I discovered a new found enjoyment in dough-rolling this year, though the tedium of frosting still irks me. Still, it’s good to give something made. I’ve got a pile of Christmas cards yet to write and send. If you’re reading this, please don’t expect yours until after the new year.
I feel strangely unoccupied, like waiting. It’s mostly peaceful, but a little empty. Which I suppose is a good thing. We’ve been trying to keep the Nativity fast this year, and one of the points of abstaining is to make room and make ready. And also to consider the immensity of God become man. Speaking in the voice of Mary, St. Romanos the Melodist hymns:
O my child, child of sweetness,
How is it that I hold Thee, Almighty?
And how that I feed Thee,
Who givest bread to all men?
How is it that I swaddle Thee,
Who with the clouds encompasseth the whole earth.
“O my child, child of sweetness.” As a mother, I can wrap my arms around a baby God who needs nursing and changing and tending, but wait, this is God we’re talking about. As John recently asked, “Am I the only one who thinks the Incarnation is weird? Why would God become a man?” The poet Christina Rossetti famously wrote in her poem “A Christmas Carol” (better known as “In the bleak mid-winter”): Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him / Nor earth sustain… How does the uncontainable contain himself? Christians say, “because of his great love for us.” Even as a parent, even for all I would do or change or sacrifice for my children, I cannot approach that kind of surrender, a surrender that is complete abandonment of the self for another. John’s right: it’s weird (for lack of a better word).
Which brings me to the idea of gift. In the Kontakion for the Nativity, Romanos surveys the gifts of the Magi and the angels, the shepherds and the heavens, asking what we can give the Christ child:
What shall we present unto Thee, O Christ,
For Thy coming to earth for us men?
Each of Thy creatures brings Thee a thank-offering:
The angels — singing; the heavens — a star;
The Wise Men — treasures; the shepherds — devotion;
The earth — a cave; the desert — a manger;
But we offer Thee the Virgin-Mother. O Eternal God, have mercy upon us.
We give him our humanity. And it’s really all we have to give. Ourselves. Our emptiness for him to fill.
Merry Christmas and Blessed Feast of the Nativity to you all.