Prepare ye the way of the Lord. That’s what her preacher had said. That’s what she was trying to do this Advent season. She desperately wanted to prepare her heart to receive the peace of Christ. God knew she could use some peace.
Carol was a single mom trying to raise two kids. Her husband bailed after the second child was born prematurely and had some developmental problems. The doctors couldn’t guarantee she would turn out to be “normal” and he couldn’t handle it. Ironically, her youngest did turn out to be just fine—a happy 11-year-old with a “B” average and an addiction to Instagram.
Carol used to love Christmas. Her father once told her that the Christmas “Carols” were sung just for her, and years after she stopped believing him, she loved pretending it was true. She knew the words to all of them. But this year, she just didn’t feel much like singing.
There was a store that she walked by on the way to work everyday that had a window full of nativity scenes. There was one that she always paused to look at. It was too expensive for her to purchase, and she wondered if it might still be there and go on sale after Christmas. Then she always felt a little guilty waiting for a bargain Jesus. It was the kind that just had Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. None of the shepherds or wisemen or barn animals. Just the family. The baby is sleeping and Mary is looking down at him. Her face the picture of calm and peace.
Working full time and trying to raise two precocious girls who were determined to grow up as fast as they could didn’t bring a lot of peace to Carol. She was hoping to find some this Christmas. This year, she was really wanting something more from Christmas. Though her life wasn’t bad, things really hadn’t turned out the way she thought they would. Life seemed a little hollow—as if there was something deep in her core that needed to be filled. She was hoping and praying that Christmas would bring her what she yearned for this year.
She wanted to Prepare the Way for the Lord, but she honestly couldn’t find the time. She got up early enough for a short power walk to help preserve her waistline and her sanity. Then it was always chaos for three females to get ready and out the door by 8 a.m. Her work day sailed with lunch usually being a sandwich at her desk. And then by the time she got home, fixed dinner, helped with homework, got the girls to bed and threw a load of whites in the laundry, all she wanted to do was collapse in a heap. She didn’t even have time to pray. When, exactly, did this the preacher (who didn’t have any children, BTW) think she was going to do all this preparation?
But every day when she passed by that store, she paused to look at that nativity scene—it was her very own Christmas story. She imagined that Silent Night when Christ was born. She imagined how miraculous that night must have been and she longed for the peace she saw in Mary’s eyes.
One day as she was passing the store front to look at her nativity scene she was shocked and disappointed to see that it was gone. Guess she wouldn’t be buying it on the after Christmas sales after all. But in its place was a very different kind of scene. This one had the shepherds and the sheep and a donkey and a cow and even the three wisemen. Baby Jesus was not asleep, but his feet and arms were waving in the air and Joseph was leaned over as if speaking to Mary whose head was thrown back like she was laughing.
“What on earth was she laughing about?” thought Carol. Then it hit her. Mary was laughing at the absurdity of it all. Two people, far away from home, birthing their first child—a child that they had on good authority was actually God—birthing him in a barn among the livestock. One would have to either laugh or cry—and this Mary had chosen to laugh.
Then Carol realized that there was nothing “silent” about that night. It was loud and dirty and uncomfortable and painful and, yes…chaotic. Nobody was at all prepared for Jesus that first Christmas, yet he came anyway. He burst onto the scene screaming and messy and hungry. Carol’s hectic schedule seemed like a cake walk compared to what must have gone on in Bethlehem that first Christmas.
If Jesus could enter the world in such an unexpected and unlikely way, surely he could make his way into her wacky world. She had her very own epiphany right in front of the Hallmark store.
So that year, to prepare for Advent, she became the laughing Mary.
When the work package that just absolutely positively had to get there overnight went to Tucson instead of Boston, she ran some damage control and then she tossed back her head and laughed.
When she fell into bitter moods over being left to raise two daughters alone, she smiled because she, and she alone, knew the joy of being a parent to those two wonderful creatures she called daughters.
When the disposal and the dishwasher broke on the same day, she laughed because it couldn’t get worse, and then the next day when the dryer broke, she laughed at her own naivete.
When she heard her two daughters unpacking the Christmas decorations and her youngest cried out—“Mom, Sara hid the baby Jesus. Tell her she can’t have him. Jesus is for all of us.” She laughed, because she knew that truer words had never been spoken.
And then in the midst of all that laughter, a funny thing happened. Not funny, ha ha. But funny, odd. Funny wonderful.
Somehow, the mornings seemed easier. And she didn’t feel exhausted by nightfall. There was not only time to pray, but the prayers seemed to bubble up from inside of her. They came with no effort at all. And there was no part of her body, her soul, or her life that seemed hollow.
Several years ago she had let each of the girls choose their favorite food to have for Christmas dinner. So that Christmas Eve after church when she and the girls sat down to their traditional dinner of pizza and Cheetos, every part of her felt whole.
Her life was loud, messy, uncomfortable, painful and chaotic. She was totally prepared for the coming of the Christ child. After all, her life was just the kind of place where Jesus feels at home.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer is an online, inclusive and progressive Christian community. Follow us on Facebook and get emails to keep up with all that is happening.