It's Dec. 24th but Christmas has already "come" for me.
It didn't arrive with packages, boxes, and bows, to paraphrase the little green guy with anger management issues. Or with any of the things that I associate with Christmas, wonderful as those things may be. Honestly, it hasn't come in the orthodox ways at all this year.
It's come in the form of sickness for one thing. Helplessness helps, apparently, when I'm trying to catch the spirit of the Christ Child. Frankly, I am helpless to "fix" my husband's illness - he is still down for the count and Christmas is non-existent right now for him.
And there are, of course, other areas I wish I could fix - such is life. But... I can't. And my "can't" seems to be the tie that is binding me to the Christ Child this season of 2013, bringing peace and joy to my heart at odd intervals, in unorthodox ways - even in the midst of flu and missed pay checks and doctor's visits and a to-do list that is temporarily suspended. Yes, and even in the midst of irritability which seems to be always sitting on my shoulder or hiding behind the next door (or relative), like an imp who just lives to sour my moment, my day, our life. Out of my helplessness and this mix of joy- stealing things, joy still somehow manages to come.
Last Sunday morning for example. Dec. 21. Four days before Christmas and with a sick husband at home in bed, I sat in a pew with two neighbor children sitting beside me. My companions were a boy who was turning 13 that very day and an 8 year-old girl whom I didn't know. The music was wonderful; the sermon powerful. I listened to it all and imbibed as much as I could because I am a straggler after Jesus and that's what stragglers do.
But joy came, not through the music or the preacher's words but through the actions and words of the kids next to me. The little girl snuggled next to me instantly, trustingly -even though she doesn't know me. Child-like faith. I watched her and tried to learn.
As she snuggled, she stared admiringly at her white shoes, feet sticking straight out in front of her so she (and I) could see them better. Twice, she tilted her perfectly shaped little face up towards me and breathed this wondrous message, "My shoes are slippers..." Each time she had a satisfied little smile on her face. A white, full skirted dress-up dress, white leotards, and white leather shoes that don't snap or velcro or tie. Her cup of happiness was overflowing.
And by God's grace, it spilled right over into my cup and there was joy in the pew where we sat. White slip-on dress-up shoes can do that for you, I learned.
Then it was time for communion. As I passed the impressive communion plate high over her head to her aunt, the little girl's eyes got big. She knows not to talk in church but... the pressure was too great. In a voice that was small and with eyes that were large, solemn, she asked me what was in the plate. I told her. She sat still for a bit longer and then quietly asked, "Do I get some?" I was caught on the fly, so to speak, so I whispered back that it was mostly for grown-ups. Not good theology but I couldn't think of anything else.
Then the plate with the thimbles full of grape juice was passed. This time I was ready when she asked. I told her it was juice and that later, when she gives her heart to Jesus, she will drink it too. She looked solemn before whispering to no one in particular. "I like juice." Then to my surprise, she said, "Is this all about Jesus ?" I nodded and she got quiet once again.
Before we drank it, the 13 year-old next to me said, "Mrs. Cathy!" I turned towards him and to my total surprise, he "clinked" his plastic thimble full of juice next to mine and said, "A toast...to Jesus!" An unlikely mix of thoughts flashed through my mind... "What did he say? Are we even supposed to do that???" And then a quick look behind me to see if anyone noticed... Followed by suppressed laughter as the reality of what we'd just done hit me. I had joined an all-boy, next door neighbor in toasting the Savior and I think it was okay with the One who turned water into wine. Who turns unlikely boys into disciples. And who turns grape juice and white slip-on shoes into joy.
That's the God I celebrate this season.
And that's how Christmas came to me this year.