Playing the Holy Family – and the Magic of Christmas

My second born had colic. During the day he was the sweetest child, but at night just like Jekyll, he turned into a screaming stranger. The crying went on for three to four hours every night and doctors couldn’t offer a reason or a fix.

My daughter, who was barely two, suddenly wouldn’t leave my side. Never. For any reason.

Needing a break, my husband took me out to dinner. Midway through our meal, the babysitter called and explained she couldn’t take anymore.  In the background, I could hear my son’s pained crying and my daughter’s sobs. My spirit sunk as we drove home.

A week later, our church, the Methodist Church in Santa Monica called and asked if we would be the Holy Family on Christmas Eve.

Each year, a family with a newborn and dressed in appropriate Bethlehem garb is asked to walk to the front of the church, pretending to be Mary, Joseph, carrying baby Jesus.

I told  Reverend Don Shelby we couldn’t because of my son’s colic. I also explained my daughter refused to leave my side – I was quite sure the Bible made no mention of Jesus’ older sister.

Shelby listened, and then simply and cheerfully said, “We’ll count on you.”

Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck in her short story, The Christmas Story, describes a young mother’s anguish about giving birth to a boy on Christmas Eve.

“He’ll grow up and be a man and he’ll go off, too, to some Vietnam or other and be blown to pieces and all this will be of no use.” But what, the mother was thinking, was the use of this pain, this agony of birth, endured by women generation after generation, if people kept on killing each other, generation after generation?

After her son’s birth, the Doctor sends a photo to the husband in Vietnam. On the back of the photo he writes, “I wonder if long ago Mary knew that a great man had been born from her womb, a great man who would lead the world to peace, if men would follow him?  Anyway, she hoped as all mothers’ hope! Who knows? I keep hoping; too, with every baby I deliver.

On a Christmas Eve in 1993, we stood at the entrance to the church sanctuary. My son was wrapped in swaddling clothes, my husband and I in robes, my daughter hanging on my hem.

Just as we started to walk down the aisle, a happy young church member produced a big stuffed bear and asked my daughter if she’d like to go play. She looked at me, and then, for the first time in months cheerfully went off with the woman carrying a bear.

While the congregation sang “Silent Night,” we walked to the altar carrying a quiet child. I laid him in the manager and waited for his wails.

They never came.

For the first time in two and a half months he didn’t cry. His big eyes stared at everyone in wonderment.

We were at the front of the church for about 30 minutes, while everyone walked by to see “Baby Jesus.”

A small miracle happened that night.

As the congregation walked out of the sanctuary, we left the alter and walked back to a room to change our clothes. Our daughter came in and asked to be held. We went home and everyone slept that Christmas Eve.

The next night the colic was back and continued for another month and a half. My daughter once again clung to my side.

Every Christmas, I hope for miracles for the people who need them.

I think of how Christmas resonates with the symbolism of a child’s birth. Every time a baby is born, the promise, the hope that baby may be the person who can lead our world to a peaceful coexistence: where differences are respected, evil suppressed, and the joy of life celebrated.

Let this coming year be the beginning of that miracle.

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3 Responses to Playing the Holy Family – and the Magic of Christmas

  1. M says:

    GOD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS…..He gave you a “quiet” baby for a special time.

  2. Patty Adelmann says:

    Dear Sue, Patty Adelmann here. For years we attended SMMC on Christmas Eve and watched the pageant you describe. It always made me cry (and I was always surprised to be crying!) My husband and I moved last summer to Jupiter, Florida so we will be missing our Christmas Eve traditions in LA. Your story brought them all flooding back.

    And, do you know, reading your story, once again, I find myself crying over the birth of Christ and also crying over the simple beauty of you walking with a newborn down the aisle to reenact a miracle, witnessed by others. All this, despite the almost overwhelming cynicism of the times we live in.

    Thank you so much for sharing your talents and bringing this story to me! Merry, Merry Christmas!

  3. M says:

    Thank you, Patty Adelmann. A very touching comment.

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