living liturgically (season one, episode five, christmas 2021)

The intense waiting and expectation has turned into the joy of the baby, Jesus Christ. Mary is still bleeding out from childbirth, her stomach still cramping, stretch marks run along her skin. She picks up Jesus in a daze and pops out a breast, and Jesus latches on to eat. Mary winces as her crackled nipple aches as the child suckles. She tries to switch her position slightly, but Jesus begins to fuss, and so Mother Mary sighs, resigned to the fact that she’s stuck in this position for a while, and closes her eyes again. She won’t sleep, because her newborn is not asleep, and even if he were, her body just aches.

I’m not sure that Mary feels the whole joy to the world or oh holy night thing as much as everyone else does in this moment, but she’s still in love and in awe over the miracle of birth, and the tiny baby in her arms. Mother Mary’s arms hold God in the flesh, God with us. The whole scene is amazing, but Mary still carries a heavy burden, and she’s a new mother. I wonder if she suffered post partum depression while holding the son of God. I hope her birth attendants gave her decent disposable underwear, some nipple cream, and a heat pack made of rice and lavender. Maybe the brushed and braided her hair for her before they left her side. They had gotten to deliver Jesus, God incarnate.

From my perspective, when I began to grasp the enormity of the incarnation (in the middle of Lent 2020 of all times), it changed absolutely everything. I was in awe, and I realized how profound the incarnation was. Despite that, I was still uncomfortable with the baby Jesus. But the baby Jesus is the one that grows up to be adult Jesus, who works miracles, casts out demons, heals the sick, forgives sins, and gives himself as a sacrifice. I can’t have one without the other. So for me, this Christmas, I sit with discomfort. I don’t do Christmas well, I never have. It’s a time of much trauma I’d rather not be reminded of.

I give my children gifts that I’ve carefully chosen for them, but I tell everyone who asks about me that I’m fine, and besides, it’s about the children. It’s a great way to deflect, but I’m actually not that fine. I don’t want to be a downer on other people’s holiday, and as much as I love to give gifts, I don’t receive gifts well because I’m afraid. I’m always stoked to receive a gift that has been personally chosen with me in mind because that’s a way I show love and feel love, but I’m terrified of gifts because I don’t know the proper etiquette and I’m quite certain that whattever I do will be wrong. I’ve been so traumatized by gift giving that if I give someone a gift, they know that I really care about them. I will pick something up because it made me think of someone. I don’t need it to be Christmas to give gifts.

It’s not about the gifts, we all know that, but that’s still a large part of what makes Christmas uncomfortable for me. I tried this year to pull away from the commercial stuff, and I did that by buying gifts for my kids before the beginning of December, and that helped some. I see other people hanging out happily with their families, but for me, that’s never going to happen, and I grieve it deeply still. It’s time to allow some of the wounds to be exposed so that they can be healed, but again, I’m afraid. The angel said “fear not, I bring you good tidings of great joy,” and while I know it’s true, I’ve not yet actually dared to believe it.

Perhaps it’s time for me to go, and, in the words of the angel again, “you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in the manger,” although by now he’s lying on his exhausted mother’s breast. I need to pay Mary and Joseph a visit, bring Mary some lamingtons and Earl Grey tea, as well as a pack of diapers and some pacifiers for the baby. I might need to have Mary hand Jesus to me while I rock him and speak softly to him, so she can catch a nap. That would make me uncomfortable, and I don’t like to think of Jesus so helpless and dependent and yet that was part of this whole incarnation business.

Jesus Christ, the word made flesh, God with us, has come to us, and to me. He made his dwelling among us, and the tears of baby Jesus crying for his mother’s breastmilk are as important to the story as the tears of blood Jesus cries in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Published by MaryClare StFrancis

MaryClare StFrancis is a writer who sounds as boring as hell but who is intimately acquainted with the horrific and the sacred. For a long time, darkness has been her friend, but she now walks in the light of Christ. As a committed Episcopalian, her main contribution to the church is her ability to make the priests facepalm or swear, depending on the day and context. MaryClare has a Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing and lives in Mississippi with her four children.

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