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Not As Planned

Hey, how’s 2020 going?  Have you had your fill of nog yet?  Everything wrapped?  Did anyone ruin Christmas yet?

My family has a running joke that someone always ruins Christmas.  It’s almost a badge of honor.  Almost.  Except when it’s really ruined—like you clog the toilet and it backs up to flood the house. Or, when everyone gets the stomach bug on Christmas Eve and the 2 year old spews vomit all over all the people in the back pew of Mass as you madly dash for the exit.  So many options for ruin, y’all. . .

This past week, some friends and I were chatting about the holidays.

The common refrain among us was “Why do they have to be sooooo haaaaard?” Be assured, we actually used all those extra vowels in real life!  The plans.  The people. The broken plans.  The broken people.  There is no way around it—Christmas is haaaaaaard.

Just days before Christmas a couple of years ago, I attended a little Advent gathering at the Motherhouse of our local Dominican sisters.  First. . .if you don’t know a Dominican sister—find one!  Friend her.  Sit at her feet and soak in the sweetness that is the Rockstar Mary Poppinsness of the sort of woman who wears the white habit.  Seriously.

At this intimate reflection, one of the brilliant sisters laser shot us the answer to our question—“Christmas. . .why so hard?”

Through a careful and completely inspired walk through the Gospel nativity narratives, Sister spoke Jesus’s word to us:  For us, Christians, this season is meant to bring us more fully into the mystery of the Incarnation.  There is not one part of the Incarnation that isn’t hard.  Hard to comprehend on a mystical level, for sure.  But, also just plain hard for the flesh and blood people there at that first Christmas—and ever since.

Our sugar-coated manger scenes—though beautiful—don’t begin to tell the whole story of that ill-timed census compelling a young, giantly pregnant bride and her righteous (but surely still whiplashed by the angel’s message) husband to travel far from home on foot. . .or on a donkey.  Which one was it?  I mean, let’s just stop there.  Does it really matter?  Does the donkey help the situation, really?  Moving on. . . labor commences—no matter which side of the labor pain Mariology you find yourself, we can clearly sense that this whole scenario would not have been any woman’s birth plan.

Upon arrival to Bethlehem, there are “no vacancy” signs for miles, so the tiny, freshly born baby is placed in an animal’s feeding trough.  A holy host of angels and dudes are popping in and out of Our Blessed Mama’s humble post-partum room with no posted “visiting hours” rules or vigilant hospital nursing staff to manage the parade.  Sidebar: of shameful memory, I once made my husband usher my wonderful muffin-bearing brother-in-law out of my Labor and Delivery Room because I couldn’t eat the muffins and they disturbed my peace.  Mary’s Labor and Delivery Room was a cow’s kitchen.  This is Christmas, y’all. Where is the peace?  Where is the ease?  What person in their right mind would have planned this?

God did.

In this upcoming Christmas season (after all, Christmas is a season not just a day of the year!), let’s continue to sit with the Gospel.

The Good News is that the whole messy story of Christmas is God entering into our messy lives to give us hope.  God allowed and planned His humble, difficult, inconvenient Incarnate debut to make us part of His family.  At every hard holiday moment, every changed plan, every foiled attempt, every discomfort, every hurt feeling, every tearful struggle, and every heartbreak this holiday, Our Blessed Lord knits us into His story.  Because He was there first.  Christmas is hard—always was.  But, even in the hard, we still rejoice.  Because God is so very near now.

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Franchelle Jaeger

Franchelle writes from Nashville, TN.

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