The icebreaker topic “what are your traditions/what are you doing for Christmas Eve and Day?” felt like ice in my veins. I told myself to buck-up and get my happy face on so I’d be ready to breeze through my turn.
But the truth was: I did not want to talk about my Christmas, and how abnormal it would be.
Maybe I’ll lie…
As the women around the table spoke, I realized I wasn’t alone. A young woman just became a mom. Another is getting divorced. One recently buried her own mother. Another is dealing with her mom’s rehabilitative recovery from a life-threatening event. One woman is many states away from her family, travel costs are too high so she’ll be alone. And someone else has a spouse being deployed before the bells of Christmas Eve ring.
In a baker’s dozen, the majority spoke of abnormal Christmas plans.
When it came to my turn, I remained cheery but told the truth of a simple and quiet Christmas that will include me, the hubs, and our cats. We’ll take it easy, hang in our PJs. Maybe that day I’ll have an opportunity to do something for those less fortunate than me. It’s a big departure from what my family feels I should be doing for Christmas—being with them in below freezing weather of the mid-west.
But things are different this year on so many levels. And it’s just not the year for me to be with my parents and sibling. It’s the year I am to be home with my small family, knowing that this is the very best option for me under the circumstances. Yet there is oddness—and uneasiness—in not knowing how I’ll react to Christmas Day without being surrounded by the traditions—the normalcy—I’ve held close to my heart.
I felt a kindred closeness listening to these women, as I realize few are having a normal Christmas. So much change. So much letting go and creating new. We are women embracing the season of change and birth. A birth of something new in our lives amidst abnormal circumstances.
It is the season when a mother gave scandalous birth to a baby no earthly father could claim. A baby she would watch grow-up to stir commotion. Start a revolt against religious elite. His siblings would call him crazy for claiming to be…deity. It’s the birth of a baby that would eventually be taken from its mother, and she’d watch his last painful breath on a cross.
At Christmas, there is a verse—familiar to many—that stirs me. It stirs me to my core. Luke 2:19 in various translations says:
~ But Mary treasured up all these things & pondered them in her heart. NIV
~ But Mary kept all these things in her heart & thought about them often. NLT
~ But Mary kept thinking about all this & wondering what it meant. CEV
I can’t help but see a young girl, birthing a child. Just her and Joseph huddled up in less than comfortable settings—an obscure hole in the wall. Feeling somewhat alone. Helpless. Maybe even a sense of being abandoned, as there is no mention of Mary’s family or friends there to help. And she holds this new baby. She has no idea what she’s gotten herself into.
In the quietness of the night she pounders and wonders into the depths of her soul.
She recalls the good times less than a year ago—on just an ordinary day while she went about doing ordinary work— a wondrous angel appeared to her saying, “You have found favor with God…You are to call him Yeshua (Jesus)… the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
A visit from an angel! Who would possibly believe her? She was just a simple girl. This is a great thing to treasure in her heart and think back on often.
But then there are the other parts of that first night that must have caused a swirl of mixed emotions in her heart. She has joy in her new baby that juxtaposes the sadness in knowing things will never be like they once were. She is a mother now. And some of her heart breaks in knowing the reality of her current suffering. Her unfair tarnished reputation—would her home town always gossip and whisper behind her back? Uncertainty of the future and their poverty—how could this baby become what the angel said? And fears any young girl in her state would have. Did Joseph really believe that she never cheated on him? Could she only tell her cousin and fiancé the wonders of being visited by an angel and the wild things she was told?
But Mary kept thinking about all this and wondering what it meant.
Mary and Yeshua —alone, away from home, apart from the comforts they’d known. Neither received the fanfare and celebration of a birth. No less a birth that would change…everything.
With this birth, all traditions were tossed out the door. Nothing was normal at all for this day we now call the first Christmas. And somehow, the real story of Christmas—Mary, Yeshua, and Joseph in a situation where all normalcy was gone—gives me strength and hope for my abnormal Christmas.
I wish I’d had this epiphany full circle as I sat at the table that day, as one woman after then next spoke with uncertain bravery of the days ahead. Of being alone, apart, different.
Christmas isn’t always about being surrounded by family, piles of gifts, and a special brunch or dinner. While those traditions are what I’ve held deeply sacred—there is something far more sacred going on within the changes surrounding my life. And like Mary, I ponder, treasure, and wonder what it all means—these events of the last year that has led me to my abnormal Christmas.
Christmas day, when nothing happened as it should EXCEPT that a baby was born in a manager, to a poor-nobody-virgin alone without friends and family, and this baby she held—this hope—his name was Yeshua—because that’s what the angel instructed straight from God.
So, if you find yourself in an abmornal Christmas this year, I hope you find comfort in knowing that “abnormal” is how this whole Christmas thing got started. You’re not alone. You never were.