By: Katie Davis Majors
It is Christmastime. I make sheep costumes for the Christmas play next week, and carols ring through the house from stereo speakers and off-key children’s voices. Just like every year, I shake my head at the foreignness of the blazing African sun beating down on my neck in the middle of December. My mind spins with thoughts of what still needs to be done, my heart longing to keep Christmas normal for the girls in the midst of grief over the loss of their sister. We are expecting more than twenty extras for Christmas dinner. We have always loved hosting big dinners, the house full and bustling with life and laughter, but today the thought of planning and cooking for that many people almost feels burdensome; every step feels weighed down. How will God train my heart to see, to receive, to celebrate, when all our family traditions are missing one tiny, bubbly family member?
We pile in the van and drive over bumps and potholes to the local market, packed full of people and smells and dirt. There we pick out the biggest turkey, and the girls playfully argue over who will get to hold the unwieldy, still-living bird on the way home. I beg them not to name him lest we lose our Christmas dinner into pet territory along with Moses the hedgehog and Bo the disabled cat and the slew of other animals they have collected over the years. We spread out to barter for our other groceries, potatoes out of a burlap sack and carrots fresh out of the ground, and I wish I could pick up some joy here in the market with my onions. I send my friend Renee a text and ask if she will bring dessert, as my pie crust always crumbles. It seems like every other Christmas. I desperately want it to be.
Later, I hang stockings on the wall as my youngest, Patricia, only two, dances on the dinner table, anticipating what is to come. The girls beg to decorate the tree I have yet to put up. When I say that will have to wait a little longer, they busy themselves arranging the figurines of the little banana-fiber nativity set, squealing with delight over baby Jesus.
In these ordinary moments, I am so grateful for my girls, who have walked the harsh road of family lost and found. I am grateful for their love and life and laughter but also for their tangible everyday needs that keep me getting up each morning, keep me from sinking under the covers of sadness and self-pity. These thirteen hearts still need me, still cling to me, and this leads me to each next step. I need them to need me. Even though I hurt, their ordinary, everyday needs give me purpose in the pain.
I am lost in these thoughts as the sun creeps below the horizon. The phone rings. A young woman, Maria, has delivered her baby boy prematurely at the hospital just down the street, and the doctors cannot stop her bleeding. My longtime friend Christine, a social worker on our staff, begs from the other end of the phone for me to come. So, promising the girls that I will get the tree up tomorrow, tucking them snugly under covers and kissing their foreheads good night, I leave the oldest in charge of their sisters and head around the corner to the hospital.
Not again, Lord. My mind races as I make the short but bumpy trip. Please not again.
The hospital is dimly lit, but the pallor of Maria’s face is unmistakable as she moves in and out of consciousness. I sit on the edge of her bed and cradle her newborn son to my chest to keep him warm. Paint peels off the hospital walls, women in labor groan, and time seems to stand still as I examine his perfect pink little fingers and toes. Maria moans for water. Christine holds a cup to Maria’s lips and then moves in search of a doctor. I stare at the cracking cement floor and think of Bethlehem.
I can imagine the stench.
Joseph has walked and Mary ridden ninety miles in the scorching sun, the wind whipping around their faces and caking them with dust from the dirt road. More sweat pours from Mary’s brow as she experiences the pains of labor for the first time. The room is packed with all the travelers’ animals. Flies buzz around them in the heat, and the air is heavy with the smells of sickly sweet hay and manure.
And into this, a baby enters.
I have witnessed this kind of birth before. Woman sighs and baby falls right into the dirt and into the dark of a tiny mud hut with the light of just a thin candle, and eyes search for something, anything, sharp to cut the cord. Water is a luxury and too far away to fetch at this hour, so the women of the community wrap the baby in whatever filthy rag scraps can be found without even wiping her off first.
I picture Joseph as he searches for anything he can find in the dim light to cut the cord and then scrambles to swaddle his child, probably in rags carrying the aforementioned stench and the dirt of the journey. Trembling and exhausted, they wrap Him as best they can and, swatting flies away, lay Him in the same trough out of which these animals have been eating.
Behold, the Savior.
And in this moment, God fulfills every promise ever made. This, God’s perfect time. This, His perfect plan. And His promise is simple and at the same time unbelievable: Emmanuel, God is with us. God Himself, right here in our mess. Even right here in my less-than-ideal Christmas, He remains the only provision I need.
He makes Himself very least, no more status or opportunity than the helpless infant I cradle, than the woman who bleeds out beside me on the bed. He makes Himself very least so that He can commune with the most desperate: us. And to the humblest, the shepherds, He sends His messengers, to call them to see. Only those who are desperate and poor and unassuming can behold the miracle that night.
He is here. God with us, here in the mess. Here in the home that is missing a four-year-old and here in the overcrowded, understaffed hospital, here on the rickety tin-frame bed in the light of the lantern. And the wretched condition of our hearts is worse than the wretched condition of this hospital, and the stench of our sin and our doubt much more potent than the stench of a barn, but that does not deter Him, God with us.
Am I humble enough to see?
Behold, the Savior.
Excerpted from Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors Copyright © 2017 by Katie Davis Majors. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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