Christmas Letter 2010: A Family Noel
If I had been a shepherd on the lonely hillside that night, suddenly roused by a multitude of angels exalting in the heavens, I would have been riddled with disbelief. Angels proclaiming what? Unlikely. Where? – here in Bethlehem? Preposterous. And probably, I would have done . . . nothing. I would have kept my watch as I was obligated to do, sat myself down solidly and stubbornly under the Tree of Ignorance, and waited for my shift to end.
BUT, had BRIAN been that shepherd, he would have felt the angels’ presence before they even appeared. He would have read the subtle signs in the night sky, felt the delicate change in the wind. He would have stood and raised his face to the heavens and soaked up every syllable of the angels’ joyful song. And off he’d go immediately, not leaving the sheep behind – oh no – not my son, made of two parts adventure and one part fierce loyalty, and he would have led his flock (who would willingly follow) to the stable where the baby lay. What’s more, he would have played his tin whistle along the road. He’d pick up the angels’ tune in his head, and incorporate it into his step as sweetly and melodically as a child’s unquestionable faith can be.
If I had been the innkeeper in Bethlehem town that night, with a house full to bursting and not a bed left to spare, I don’t know if I’d have offered my last remaining space in the stable. In fact, I might not have even thought of it.
BUT, had THERESE been that innkeeper with a pregnant woman at her doorstep – oh dear – she would have MADE room in the inn. Always the consummate hostess, always concerned about the well-being of others, Therese would have scooted others aside with firm direction. And if there truly wasn’t an inch of space left, she would have made a lovely little room out of that stable. She would have painted it lemon-yellow sparkly bright. She would have brewed cup after cup of hot chocolate. She would have ordered those animals into quiet submission, ensuring a quiet’s night sleep for her guests. She would have made pillows out of hay and lambs wool, sewn with golden threads. And probably, she would have found a healthy snack for the donkey, too.
If I had been the Little Drummer Boy with a mighty hankering to bang my drum that night, I probably would have been too shy and never played at all. Although I’d want ardently to play for Him, I would have gone ‘round to the back of the stable to practice by myself, and then talked myself out of the performance, convincing myself I wasn’t good enough.
BUT, had RONAN been the Little Drummer Boy, poor little baby Jesus would have gone deaf in infancy. Ronan would only hesitate a moment, to asses the situation and to ensure his rightful place amongst the visitors. But then, oh, how he would play that drum for Him (pa rum pum pum pum) at first quietly and then working up to a valiant everlasting crescendo, until someone would have to smile and ask him sweetly to stop. And then, in typical Ronan fashion, he’d bend over the baby Jesus’ ear to ask the newborn savior for a bigger drum.
If I had been Joseph, leading my expectant wife through the uneven streets of Bethlehem that night, I would have made shoddy work of it. I might have found some substandard hay in a lonely corner to make a soft place to lie. But after that, my resourcefulness would have waned.
BUT, if GABRIEL had been there to make a place for his pregnant wife, oh my – what a castle he’d conjure up in a jiffy: a castle fit for a child king. Gabriel would have the stable cleaned and bright, water proof and fireproof, carved intricate designs into the beams, had the animals fed, watered, and soothed, found more hay when there was none to be had for miles, built a rocking cradle with skilled carpenter’s hands, demonstrating patience, exactness, and a small undercurrent of pride. He’d have stood back to assess his work, and then tear up at the sight of the newborn child.
If I had been that newly married, big-bellied girl in a strange place that night, with no other women around me, feeling those first few pangs of labor, I would NOT have been quiet. I would have complained loudly and often. I would have serious second thoughts about agreeing to this arrangement in the first place. The hay would have been too prickly, and that damn star would have been shining right in my eyes. I know I would have little tolerance for pain, and I would doubt – oh, how I would doubt – about the future, about the safety of my family, about this challenging recessionary year, about the moral compasses of my children, about the academic success of my students, about my ability to keep it all together ….
BUT, I only need to peer into Gabriel’s eyes to know how strongly this house is built. I only need to listen for Ronan, his infectious laugh drumming in my ears. I only need to look around to see what a colorful home Therese has made. I only need to find Brian to see the leading man he is becoming, full of determination, full of faith.
And – I would recapture that faith – the elusive faith of 2010 – grasp it tightly in my hand like a stunningly shining star, pulsing, powerful, promising hope.
‘Tis the season of hope.
‘Tis the season to bang loudly on our drums, with our loved ones gathered closely around us, in our clean and bright homes, built on a sturdy foundation of love and family, hope and faith.
May God bless all our family and friends in 2011.
Merry Christmas from the McKeagneys.