One of the best (and sometimes worst) things about traditions…is how acutely they remind us of the passing of time. I was looking back on Instagram pictures from a year ago today, and reminded of all the fun we had together as a family last Christmastime. I absolutely LOVE Christmas. Christmas, around here, is like a national holiday. (Oh, wait….)
Anyways, last December, was a major highlight for our family as we celebrated both the upcoming birth of Mary’s baby, and the upcoming birth of our baby. There was of course, the usual holiday hubbub, but for the most part, our kids seem to have a genuine understanding that Christmas is, more than anything else, about Jesus’ coming.
Here’s a few of my last-December Instagram faves. I’ll include them exactly as I posted them in real time, though I can’t even read the words without the tears falling…
November 19th, 2012. “Kicking off the season with my all-time favorite Christmas story. Best.read.ever.”
December 2nd, 2012. “Advent calendar day 2: reinacting the Christmas story. Joseph is pretty stoked he also got to ride on the donkey…”
December 8th, 2012. “Best Christmas present ever! Thanks so much Mom & Dad for our 1963 vintage camper! Now you have a guest room to stay in when Charlie comes, and we have a new way to take adventures. We’ve named her Whimsy…even though Fred wanted to call her Lightening McQueen. : )”
December 21st, 2012. “On our “Journey to Bethlehem” hike. It was a long, muddy, tiring journey…probably just like it was back then. Such a great reminder for me.”
December 24th, 2012. “Next year, we’re going to have to squeeze another little Zeller into this chair…”
Looking back on these memories one year later, I can’t even breathe thinking of how much has changed. And none of it…in ways that make me happy.
Some of these pictures make me smile, like the one of Daddy playing a donkey. But…they also make me ache. The only reason we even bought that vintage camper, was so my parents would have a place to stay when Charlie arrived. We needed so many random things with a new baby coming. And no baby came.
The only reason Emma insisted on playing “Navitity scene” every single day…is because she loved pretending to be a “round yon virgin” and super pregnant just like Mommy. They loved being Joseph and Mary, because it was such a huge part of their lives that Mommy was expecting a baby. And no baby came.
And the only reason I loved reading Two From Galilee every Christmas, was because of the deep connection I’ve felt with Mary…since I’ve been either pregnant or caring for a newborn, every single Christmas for the last four years of my life.
Except for this one.
Because no baby is here. And no baby is coming.
You don’t even realize just how much Christmas is about a baby boy, until you’ve spent the last ten months of your life desperately trying to avoid baby boys. But there are babies everywhere. Babies at Target, babies at soccer practice, babies at church. And hardest of all…I’m reminded that Charlie’s precious body is buried in the cold December ground, everytime I see the neighbor’s baby…who is the exact same age as Charlie would be. It’s been fight or die for the last ten months…and protecting my heart from the constant pain bombardment of babies has felt absolutely necessary just to survive.
And then, enter Advent. A 25 day-long ode…to the coming of a baby boy. Because “Advent” means “Coming.”
“O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel…”
“Long lay the world, in sin and error pinning…till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”
“Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free…”
I can’t even hear these songs without weeping.
I can’t look at a Christmas ornament with a chubby, little Jesus in a manger…without being reminded of how much it hurts that we never even got to see our baby boy’s eyes.
Last Christmas, I was a ready-to-burst mother, just like the virgin Mary, waiting, and waiting, and waiting to meet my sweet, baby boy.
And I’m still waiting.
And I ache.
After four years of identifying with Mary at Christmas in our glorious new motherhood states…I can no longer identify with Mary. I don’t even want to look at Mary. I don’t want to hear about Mary. And I certainly don’t feel like singing about Mary.
Because Mary got her baby.
And though I am so eternally grateful that she did, the image of Mary and her baby serves as an utterly painful reminder of my broken life. Because my baby boy, who I carried across that long, dirty “Journey to Bethlehem” one year ago…is never coming. My baby boy who I named, and anticipated, and birthed in the incredibly dark stable of a silent delivery room…is never coming. And neither is the next baby. Or the next baby.
My womb is empty. And my manger is empty.
And this Christmas, no matter how hard we try, our happy family memories are still constantly mingled with weeping, and soul-aching, and missing the babies who were so very loved and long-expected…and are never, ever coming.
Yep, much as I like her, I can no longer identify with Mary.
Who I do identify with…are the people of ancient Israel who suffered through the 400 hundred YEARS of agonizing silence between the Old Testment and the New, as they waited for a Word from their holy King. I can identify with the people of Bethlehem, who sat for four centuries in a prophet-less, priest-less, revelation-from-God-less land…waiting desperately for any news of His coming. A people who I’m sure began to wonder if He was ever even actually coming.
Last week, after the soul-numbing experience of burying yet another baby, I told Reid, “I feel like God dropped us off at daycare on January 27th…and then forgot to pick us up.” I felt, and still feel, forsaken. I feel abandoned. I feel forgotten and left behind. My head knows that Jesus’ promise that He will never leave us or forsake us is real…but what my soul feels after an endless year of lost finances, lost relationships, lost health, lost hope, and most of all…the loss of three precious babies we had desperately wanted to keep…is that God seems silent, and cold, and a million miles away.
This year has been our four hundred years of silence, and I completely understand how the Israelites began to wonder if the promised Savior was ever, ever coming.
I can no longer identify with Mary…but I do identify with the young couple in Bethlehem who passed Mary and Joseph on the street, and stopped to compare baby boys. The couple who had waited for five, six, maybe even seven, long years and had finally had the joy of being given a baby boy. And then, all of a sudden, in the dead of the night, that precious boy was ripped from their lives by the edict of a king.
We totally breeze over the whole “King-Herod-marching-in-and-slaughtering-the-infants” scene in the rosy Christmas story, but can you imagine the pain? It can only be described as exactly what it was…”lamentation and bitter weeping.” One minute you’re cuddling your little one, and then in one split-second of time…he is gone forever from your life.
I understand profoundly, how life can be changed in one split-second of time.
The movement of the clock from 11:47pm to 11:48pm on January 27th, 2013 was the most devestating moment of my life.
Suddenly, you are no longer waiting for the things you had thought you were waiting for. Suddenly, you’re no longer waiting for a baby. You’re no longer waiting to watch that baby grow so that you can finally get rid of all that baby junk you keep tripping over in the garage. You’re no longer waiting for that first smile, that first word, that first full night of sleep. You’re no longer waiting for the life you’ve spent nine months waiting for.
You’re suddenly waiting, for what feels like forever, to even meet your baby. Now, you’re waiting for eternity. Literally. You’re waiting. And waiting. And waiting…
For Christ’s coming.
Both on Christmas. And every other day of your long life.
Because the reality is…He already came as a baby boy.
And it’s true for all of us actually. What we are really waiting for this advent…is His second coming.
I think there is great value in remembering the beautiful, true story of a scared, broke, desperate young couple yielding to the mercy and sovereignty of God as He entrusted them with a holy baby. I think there is great value in reflecting deeply on God’s extravagant goodness towards this sinful, ere’ pining world, that He would stoop to such dramatic means that we might be ransomed and redeemed. I think Christmas is absolutely worth remembering. And I think Advent is worth celebrating. But, let’s be honest people…in 21 days, the baby Jesus is not going to be birthed in the damp barn of a worn torn country.
Because He already came.
And what we wait for…the real Advent we celebrate…the real coming we struggle to grasp with our feeble hearts and fragile minds…is that He came for us…so that He could come for us again at His second coming. He came for us, so that He might come TO us in new ways, even today.
And I desperately need Him to come to me.
This has been profoundly clear to me as I drag my heavy feet, and even heavier heart, through each long Advent day.
As I pack away Charlie’s Christmas stocking and the tears fill my eyes…I am comforted by one thought alone…Jesus, the grown man with pierced hands and a heart that suffered far beyond mine…that Jesus…is on His way.
As I look back on pictures of a December that was more happy and hopeful than I am certain any of my future Decembers will ever be…I am consoled by one promise alone…someday, Jesus will come for me. Someday, I will finally meet my other three children, and we will finally have an eternity’s worth…of a lifetime’s worth of missed memories.
And as I’m forced to look at nativities filled with plump baby boys in cozy manger scenes…I am slowly being given the grace and strength to keep breathing in and out and believing in God for one more day. Slowly being given the grace to ask Jesus to keep coming near to me. Until He comes back for me.
And it is only on that coming, when He will finally make all of the wrongs, all of the brokeness, all of heaving pain of this world…right in every way. And it is only because of that coming that we can press on through another Advent season in this sin-sick, aching world, where words like cancer, and divorce, and child abuse, and still birth still rule the day…
Because our long expected Jesus…
The wonderful counselor.
The mighty God.
The everlasting Father.
The Prince of Peace…
Has promised He’s coming.