For twenty-one years I have knelt at the manger, my heart bowed before the infant Jesus. Before that, for me, Christmas was a present exchange a time when holiday cheer, pumpkin pie, decorations and department store Santa Clauses were supposed to be enough. But choruses of silver bells and gifts of clothing were never rich enough, full enough to set my spirit singing.
I remember the first Christmas after God laid claim to me; it finally became meaningful. That cold sunny morning I sang carols to myself, and it was as though God pushed into my wounded heart and held the pain, letting me know I wouldn’t have to heal alone.
That’s how it was when God sent Jesus the first time, a helpless infant born to bring healing. But who would listen? Would he be able to lead us to reconciliation without having to give up his life? And what kind of God would require such a sacrifice from a beloved child? I couldn’t see back then that there were gifts in death, that the living can be healed by the life of those gone before, and of this particular one, Jesus, somehow still alive.
Growing up I knew loss but I didn’t know how to let something die. I carried my losses as though they were treasures. My life was held together with scotch tape and band aids, wounds were all I had to make me me.
That is why I needed the manger, a place to stop trying to be perfect, a place to kneel and give over the things I carried. At first, all I could offer was brokenness, a mosaic of myself made from shards of abandonment and fear. That is what I gave God.
And this is what God gave me––a husband who loved me and didn’t leave like my parents and step-parents had and babies, two babies to hold and tend. Holy infants who touched their tiny hands to my cheeks, who cooed and smiled and cried. Infants to cuddle and rock and sing to. And while I did this, God held me and sang to me and wiped the tears from my cheeks. God slowly, year by year, took every wound, every hurt and helped me mend and polish and overcome. Then ever so gently, God suggested I leave those things at the manger along with all the gifts from wise people.
Others might lay their burdens at the cross, but my gifts belong at the birth scene. My awe and gratitude begin not with sacrificial death, but with amazement that such hope was born at all. Such hope in the form of the infant Jesus, such hope inside myself that I scarcely believe it.
The hope started small, like a baby, so I come crawling to the manger. I look into the straw at the beautiful child then ask, because I need to be told, “Are you sure? Is this for real? Dare I believe?”
“Yes,” answers the mother, Mary, who is younger and more confident than I am. She strokes Jesus’ head and pats my hand.
“Yes,” answers Joseph who has built a fire, changed the straw and found blankets for Mary and the baby.
“Oh, yes,” answer the wise men and women who kneel around the barn, unwrapping their satchels, revealing herbs, ointments, jewels, presenting all gifts precious and fitting.
“Oh yes, we’re sure,” they say. “We’ve been watching, we’ve been waiting, paying attention. This is definitely it. The beginning of something incredible.”
They take down their cooking pots and provisions. The savory smell of their cooking begins to compete with straw and hay and animal and smoke. “Will you stay and eat with us?” they ask.
I look around the barn crowded with strangers, their skin alabaster and copper and twilight, shining in the lamplight. The straw is scratchy under my knees; the lip of the manger is brittle and splintered. I am nobody, just a girl in a faded dress looking for a reason to hope.
“Yes,” I say. “Oh, yes. I will stay.”
©Cathy Warner 2006