'Prepare the way of the Lord' cried John the Baptist in the wilderness. Get ready! The time is coming! How many of us find that Christmas creeps up every year? We do not see it coming, and no matter how early the shops play their inane choruses of 'jingle bells', we are surprised when we reach 'the weekend before Christmas'.
Yet, there is a meta narrative which is yet more hidden, which creeps more stealthily upon us. I read back the blog posts I have made in these last years. In 2012 I dreamed the crib would come to life, and magic, hopeful things might come to pass if only I had the courage to 'hold on' to the tiny forceful grip of the Christ child lying vulnerable in his straw filled crib. My treasured time then was the quiet I spent with loved ones, time when all the festivities had passed and peace been allowed to drift slowly in. 2013 brought the reflection that 'so many things last because of love': a hazelnut cradled a palm precious because love made it so, and made it something that would exist into eternity. I was making freezer meals for my parents that night, because they were under the weather. Later in the same year 'a weary world rejoiced' in the coming of Christmas. My dearest Dad was going to spent the feast in hospital, and I was going to sit with him and my Ma, crocheting a blanket. I remember doing just that. A day of talking quietly on the wards, cheering Ma and Da along as best I could. In the New Year I had the honour to get engaged to the most wonderful, amazing human being ever to have come into my life. We were married in August 2014. The following Christmas tremendous peace came with Christmas. Ma and Da came to our house, and together we celebrated a beautiful, gentle time together. I can still clearly recall Da saying, 'I'm just going to sit here and glow for a while', after he had enjoyed a hearty feast and polishing off an fairly substantial Irish Coffee.
To date, it is the second word of that realization that has dominated my thoughts. I have lost. But, Christmas, and the peace that it brings in its' quiet moments, the staring at the twinkling lights in the small hours, the visitation to the crib, the family time, the carols humming from the radio, I hope might bring to the fore the first word: I have loved.
Grief makes you weary, it is true. But, what have I to rejoice in? A beautiful son carrying his grandfathers' name. It is the grace given to me, my husband, my brothers, sisters, mother, all relatives, to show this precious child the gift of love. The gift I learnt in the gentleness, patience, charity, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness and modesty of my Da. So many things last because of love.
This year we will celebrate Christmas Day at our home with the parents of my husband. Bertie is their first grandchild and they delight in him. They too have suffered grief this year, mourning the passing of Peggy, my husband's maternal grandmother. Hope and comfort has also come to them in the new life love has brought.
All of this makes sense of one little line in a famous carol. Whether I think about faith, and the Christ child in the crib, or about home and my son in his cot, the secret of the season is writ clear, even, nay especially, in the mid-winter of grief:
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.
To briefly return to the beginning. Was I ready for any of this? Prepared? No. It snuck up on me. Just like Christmas always does.
PS: I used to write about food! I have got rather carried away here. But, if you have made it this far, you should know, I am making this for Christmas Eve. Delicious. Then we are going to Midnight Mass with Bertie. You may wish us luck now......