We went to our church’s Christmas Eve service tonight. It was lovely. The lights were turned low, and most of the time was spent singing about our Savior’s birth and the wonderful, terrible, miraculous event that would happen just over 30 years later.
The atmosphere was set. Candles. Dim lighting. A really terrific band who are all IN THEIR LANE using the gifts that God has blessed them with. Families there together, children in tow, all anticipating hot cider and cookies after.
After a few songs, we were ushered into one of my favorite songs… Silent Night.
It’s been my favorite for a while, because I think it captures the stillness that the holidays tend to lack now. The whole thing whispers, slow down, slow down. And we need that.
But tonight, it made me laugh. It made me giggle and shake to the point where I was riling the kids up.
Candles. Dim lighting. Let’s praise our Lord.
All is Bright
All is Calm
Round yon Virgin
Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly… peace….
As we sang these words, clear as day, my attention turned to something else. Woven in and out of those words, being sung so beautifully by the band, were literal yelps, grunts, flatulence (not joking) and general noise and chaos from all the wee ones that were dotting the crowd. It’s like the kids anticipated this slow and beautiful melody, one in which the band would play a little bit lower at one point so our voices could carry the hymn by itself… they saw it coming and they said NAY. WE BE BUT CHILDREN, BUT WE KNOW THE TRUTH. COME LET US REMIND THESE LARGER HUMANS WHAT IT ACTUALLY MUST HAVE BEEN LIKE.
I was immediately brought back to the actual birth of Christ. What did that look like? I sing Silent Night and I have this majestic and peaceful THING going on in my head… I mean I am sure Mary gave a grunt or two pushing Jesus out, but other than that, that infant was TENDER AND MILD. And then they all SLEPT IN HEAVENLY PEACE. CAUSE THIS IS GOD. AND SO HE SLEEPS. PEACEFULLY. AS IF IN HEAVEN.
But the KIDS. They were trying to tell me something. My Tiny Human was sitting on my hip, saying ARE WE DONE YET very loudly every time there was a break in the music. The sweet girls in front of me were volleying back and forth between the giggles and the farts. There were at least two toddlers who were joining in the noise as best they can, but mostly just sounding like seagulls. And I LOVED IT. I was laughing during this beautiful hymn. THIS is real life. This song is beautiful but this symphony of sounds and smells is probably more what that holy night was like.
Was All Bright? Was All Calm? Or was there a young woman, afraid OUT OF HER MIND because she was giving birth next to a COW? Was she thinking in her sane side (did your brain do that during birth? where it literally splits in half and one side is really calm and the other side is just screaming?), oh my gosh, Joseph and I haven’t actually consummated this marriage and now I am screaming on all fours and also probably pooping, because most women do that? And then out shoots baby Jesus, covered in gunk, and also slippery, so probably covered in hay cause Joseph maybe fumbled, and that’s ok, bed of hay and all that. And then Mary is trying to get Joseph to cut the chord! cut the chord! And he’s running around, THE DONKEY IS OUT IN THE FIELD WITH ALL OUR STUFF STILL ON ITS BACK! I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING SHARP!
WHY IS THE DONKEY IN THE FIELD?!
I WAS TRYING TO CATCH A BABY AND HE RAN OFF!
WELL WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO CUT THE CHORD WITH?!
*grabs halo off of head* This should do!
Then comes time for the first latch! What a blessed time! Holy Infant So Tender and OH MY GOSH WHY DOES MY STOMACH FEEL LIKE IT’S LITERALLY BEING TIED IN A KNOT! I THOUGHT IT WAS OVER!
Joseph: Oh right, that will be your uterine muscles contracting so your tummy can firm up again, and also to get that silly placenta out! I read about those!
And then they can just relax and enjoy their baby… THAT’S NOT POOP! THAT’S ALIEN SLUDGE! AND HOW DID IT MANAGE TO GET ALL THE WAY UP YOUR BACK! KID! THAT WAS OUR ONLY SWADDLING BLANKET!
But after that’s taken care of, they can just sleeeeeep in heaaaaavenly peeeeeeeAAAAAAAACE. Except for when the baby wakes up EVERY. TWO. HOURS. to gnaw on Mary’s very sore and possibly bloody nipples. And also they might wake up when they see a bunch of men just kind of staring at them at some point in the night, with all their sheep milling about.
But the sun will rise, and though sore and in desperate need of a shower, Mary will wake before Joseph and Jesus. She glances at Joseph, the man that will help her with this great task that she has been charged with, and that stayed despite the controversy. He’s snoring softly, mouth wide open. He’s still holding the dirty swaddling blanket, not sure of what to do with it but unwilling to let it get more soiled by putting it on the ground with the animals. Mary smiles softly. He will be a great father. She looks down at her infant, naked against her chest, as that’s the only thing that they could find that comforted him in the cold night. His wrinkly fingers are sticking out, clutching against her sweaty and soiled tunic. His mouth is open like his father’s, though it’s probably more of a Man Thing, as it’s certainly not genetic. He stirs, and gives two little grunts and then starts to cry, that high-pitched cry that will soon turn into a chin-rattling yell. Mary tucks him down and he finds what he is looking for. She bends over and smells his still-matted hair. She closes her eyes and smiles, feeling content and safe for the first time in months. She knows it will not last, but it is here now, and she will give that feeling space while she can.
Holy Infant, So Tender and Mild.
Sleep In Heavenly Peace.
We may never know what that night was like (though, honestly, I am hoping to get a play by play from Mary herself post-mortem. Birth story to top all birth stories!). But we know what it meant, and we know where it ended. We can sing about Silent and Calm nights despite nights that may be quite the opposite in reality because our God had the most humble birth and the most terrible death. We sing praise while we hurt, we sing thanksgiving while we mourn, we shout alleluia when everything else is crumbling. Because that baby that Mary bore already finished it.