A Christmas Story
I get choked up each year when I watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special and Linus drags his blanket to center stage to tell the Christmas story. It's the stark hope of the phrase "unto a you is born" that gets me. The hope and the promise that a child born in a barn will inspire the faith that makes a man king brings tears to my eyes. Well, that and the completely overwhelming understanding of what kind of endless possibility is given as a birthday gift to any child welcomed as prince and the corollary understanding of what is denied a child not offered that hope. It often seems to me an object lesson that a child born in poverty should bring wise men to their knees.
Like Xtin over at Xtinpore, I love the ritual and the spectacle of Christmas. I love the sensory feast that leads me to lie awake at night, squinting at the lights on the tree and watching their halos swallow everything in sight. I love the spiced cider and the wrapped presents and the Christmas carols. There's always something new to incorporate. This year I feel in love with hand bell choirs and mulled wine. I love it all. Like Xtin, I'd often be just as happy to embrace the rituals and let the whole "true meaning" business float off on a snowflake.
But not this year. This year, I keep hearing Linus say over and over again, "Unto you a child is born..." Because unto us a child was born. On Monday last, I spent 14 hours with my laboring sister as she gave birth to the first of my family's next generation. I want here to type the story of my niece's birth as a story of inspirational transcendence. Like the story of Mary in the barn, I want the story of her first hours to be a story of some kind of spiritual birth, the sort of thing that makes you believe in higher powers and miracles and A Plan.
I can't. I can't and I won't, though not because my niece's birth wasn't inspiring or enormously important to me. It was. But I won't talk about it as if it is only miraculous because what I learned as I stroked my sister's hair while she called out in a voice I hadn't heard since she was scared and six years old was that birth is deeply, deeply human. It is a manifestation of the best and hardest parts of being human. It's worked for, mired in bodies, a gritty, painful burden that was bourn with heroic determination in the bed where my niece was born one fractional centimeter at a time. We believe the little girl born to us can change the world because we watched as my sister's body split open for her. It wasn't divine. It was, without a doubt, the most physical, earthbound thing I've ever seen.
And so this Christmas, my family passes around a baby who, at seven pounds, is barely enough to fill our arms. She's yet to manage a very convincing cry. (Though she's practicing.) But every time she opens her eyes or makes a heroic effort to get that fist in her mouth, she stirs the hope and the promise that in her face we will glimpse peace and in her possibility we will sense all possibilities. When she pulls my sweatshirt closer to her soft little face, I know how human the Christmas story really is and how much the kings and shepherds and wise men and gifts and angels singing are an externalization of the profound and astounding hope born with every baby.
Unto us a child is born.