"All who heard the shepherds story where astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often." (Luke 2:18,19) NLT
Like an eternal child, I cannot help feeling a sense of expectancy over Christmas time. Try as I may, I cannot keep the bubbles down. The cold fact that cruelty and loneliness do not allow themselves to be put on hold, does sober me for moments. Then I catch a glimpse of the star atop our platted vine tree and my heart bounds like a calf let out to pasture... What saddens, is the loss of true meaning during this time, what gladdens is God's limitless grace that continues to flow, regardless of the "maddening crowds".
Let me capture a few "starbrite" moments. Christmas eve - amid preparations for the afternoon crib service I pull up at the supa market for a few last minute supplies. A friend's (Afrikaans) grandchild is introduced to me. "Dis Tannie Maria" my friend says. "O ek weet wie's jy" says the girl. "Jy's Liewe Jesus se Mamma!" (You are Jesus' mom). How could I deny it...
Later that afternoon, after the angry skies have thundered and lashed out a drama of flashes and sheets of water, I make my way to the chapel on the hill. For the duration of the service, I am to be the shy, teen aged virgin Mary. "Mary" has a chenille shawl draped around her supposedly "young" face, a dust coloured skirt sweeps over her leather sandals and a well-worn embroidered linen Punjabi top finishes the picture. Her toes are covered in mud, so also her finger tips, the result of having to manually engage her four wheel drive donkey en route. Gathered at the back of the chapel, she joins, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, the woman that represent the female lineage of Jesus. We move about like highly strung mares, tucking and pinning stray bits of hair and nerves into place. As I finally relate my story to the sea of faces before me, I have a momentary sense of the awe that must have washed over that young girl when the reality of her "condition" sank in. Carrying a child under your heart is overwhelming enough - let alone the long awaited Messiah! What a wonder, what a privilege... I leave with the glorious sound of Christmas carols in my heart - singing all the way home. The radiance of a late afternoon sun breaks through the clouds, with brief but breathtaking sparkle.
Back home, we share gifts by lamp light. Power failures are almost as frequent as the rains up here, we've learnt to live with them, work around them, and enjoy the enforced silence. The intimacy of giving and receiving, is a gift of itself. A glow slips through the window, settles around us, and the world outside grows strangely dim.
Christmas day arrives - we all huddle together under the blankets. The day breaks with rain pelting the sink roof over our heads. We read the ever beautiful account of the birth of the Messiah, and it is new again through our children's eyes. "Let the little children come to me" - our duty to raise them for the God who put them in our care, is a marvel, a joy and a responsibility which we are only able to carry out by His grace and with His guidance. And as they grow up in this broken world, it is a deep relief that we may place their names in His hands each day. This changes the fear of the unknown on their future paths, into the knowing that they belong to a loving Father, who will spread His wings over them, always.
Fare to share is packed into the muddy chariot and whisked off to a gracious neighbour's house. Hogsback hospitality is another marvel that weaves warm colours into the tapestry of our community. We spend the rest of the afternoon sampling the delights of a shared meal and good company. With deep sighs of content we sink into the couches amid all the furry inhabitants of the house. We close our eyes and let the soothing sound of the master of the house's "baby grand" wash over us. Even the children are hushed, and grace flows in a wonderfully familiar way, from heart to heart.
Back home we are met with darkness once again. Lamps are lit and tired little bodies slipped into their pyjamas. I hum a carol from my own childhood and soon we are all snoring to the sound of rain playing out its familiar symphony. Another "Silent Night" begins in the mountains. What perfect timing our Father has. After all the rush and flush of celebrating the most magical birthday of the year, He pushes the "mute" button and silences our world once again.
Later, with only the trio of deep breaths from my three beautiful guys audible, I kneel in front of the fire. In the depth of this silence I reach for what my heart knows to be true. We began before words, and we will end beyond them. We understand beyond words. To hear our Father speak we need more love, more silence, more deep listening, more deep giving. Then we can escape the vast ocean of words and be witnesses to a world which hungers for meaning. We will be understood beyond words when we allow the Spirit of God to speak, the truth of Christ to shine and the light of the Holy Spirit to direct. Follow Him - He knows where you're meant to go - He's been there already!