‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (JN 1:5)
The day after Christmas is the feast of St. Stephen, the Church’s first martyr; my pastor informed us that after all, ‘Christ’s mass’ refers to His sacrifice (in Latin). Two days later the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Innocents–kids who died under Herod’s rage.
I am beginning to piece together the newborn God in the crib and the man on the cross; they are indivisible. Life, death, life again…Not greater than their master, the servants of the child King share in His sweetness and sacrifice.
These thoughts rushed through my mind as Annette and I raced to the hospital a couple nights after Christmas, having been summoned by our son Nick. His five-and-a-half month pregnant wife Meg had gone into labor and had given birth to a son Luke. The same family members (all my kids and spouses) who had just gathered cheerily for the feast of Jesus’ birth now sat bewildered in the cold waiting room: what happened? Is the baby gone? We had no answers.
I thought of Meg who had just shared with us Christmas night that although most Christmases deepened her identification with Mary (Jesus’ Mom), this year was different; Mary’s ‘yes’ to God, her ‘be it done to me according to Your will’ (LK 1:38), meant more to Meg than before.
Nick arrived to tell us that Meg had a seriously premature but otherwise normal labor. The baby lived 30 minutes during which time Meg and he held him. Then Nick (an Anglican priest) baptized his son. He invited us all into Meg’s room.
I have never seen Meg more radiant. She was tired but composed, her eyes shining with a kind of pride in her firstborn. She held a small bundle out of which I could see a tiny blue stocking cap. ‘This is Luke’, and she opened the blanket and passed around a child who was perfectly formed, with fine features. He was just too young to live. ‘All premature kids have red skin like his,’ Meg said protectively. Nick and Meg stayed in the hospital until Luke was taken to be prepared for burial.
That week was full of family on both sides. In the frost and the burn, we just needed each other. We gathered daily; mere presence without platitudes was enough. On January 1st, we buried Luke in a lean, lovely ceremony.
That is the day the Church celebrates Mary, the Christ-bearer. I now understand better why the Church begins the year that way. I recall Meg beaming at her new joy, and now the pain of ‘the sword that will pierce her heart’ (LK 2:35). It opens me to Mary’s ‘yes’, the threshold of God’s saving love for us all–sweetness and sacrifice, divine pleasure and pain, crib to cross.
‘Be it done to us according to Your will’ in 2016.