December 24th. 9 PM. Eastern Standard Time. From here on in, I shoot without a script. See what comes of it.
For months now, this chair has been my refuge. It was my mother's and my grandmother's before that. Now it waits in the small room adjacent to my own, with a lamp and a small clock nearby on the blanket chest my father made me when I was 16. Sometimes I write. Others I just listen to the life inside me and marvel at God and infancy and all things miraculously alive. But mostly, I wait. It is a joyful expectancy, a waiting for the good news.
Second shot: Inn door. Bethlehem. Exhausted.
They have been moving all day. In line. Crowded into corners, hardly noticed. Shoved around at food stands. Pushed aside by men jockeying for position for their families. They had hoped to be down the road by the time evening fell, but it was not to be, so they have to find a place to rest for the night. She has to find a place to focus. She knows what is happening, she had been noting the signs all day, but she hadn't yet mentioned anything to Joseph. When he is told again no rooms, she touches his sleeve. He turns, understands, and asks if there is any shelter, any place they can rest undisturbed for the night.
Third shot: A deck of cards. Living Room. Listening.
We had been running last minute errands. Getting the groceries, cleaning the house, for the in-laws would arrive any day now. The baby's due date is the next day: Christmas Day. The midwife, the nurses, everyone reassures us that babies never arrive on their due date. I know what is happening, had been noting signs all day, but I hadn't yet mentioned anything to Joel. Dinner over, we play cards. He gets frustrated and accuses me of not paying attention. When I reveal to him the cause of my distraction, he snaps to a different kind of attention. He understands.
Fourth shot: Donkey. Stable. Pacing.
She has been on and off that donkey for days. He has been such a steady, silent companion. He never asked how she was feeling, if she was ready for that baby to come on already, if she really believed she was carrying the Messiah. He watches her now with questioning eyes, pacing back and forth on her behalf. He knows what is happening.
Fifth shot: Stockings. Fireplace. Receiving.
We reach the point where we know we will not be at home the next day, so at midnight, we fill each of our stockings and welcome Christmas in its first small moments. Joel gets a pair of shoes; me, some beautiful kitchen knives. I pause in our celebrations to receive the contractions and send them on their way. Later, they will fill more of the room; now they are not overbearing. But they insist on their presence.
Sixth shot: Joseph. Stable door. Kneeling.
The baby is coming, and no one is there to help. He will not defile his wife's honor by observing her tribulation, so he kneels in the doorway. He prays that God's promises would be true; he prays for strength, survival, sanctuary. He opens his eyes and tracks the path of a star rising in the sky above him. He listens as she cries out, and then, as a different cry peals out, he turns. Mary is holding Him, their son, Jesus. They cry together.
Seventh shot: Star. Car seat. Holding on.
I peer out from under the furry edge of my hat and beg Joel not to speed. I don't want him to get a ticket. How stereotypical: Sorry, officer, but my wife is labor. 4 AM. Hospital check-in. We had done good work at home; it is soon time. My voice rings out and frightens my father waiting outside the door. I focus it down instead, and the baby crowns. The cord is wrapped - twice - Joel sees the panic in the midwife's eyes. I do not. All I know is that the baby is here. Beverly works with nimble hands, frees her, and holds her up: It's a girl. We cry together.
Eighth shot: Mary. Stable floor. Nursing.
She knows who He is. She had heard the angel's words, believed them immediately. She knows what He had been born to do, to be. But in this moment, this first moment of providing Him with life, with sustenance, she also knows He is simply her son. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing is more important than Him.
Ninth shot. Chloe. Hospital Room. Sleeping.
She makes so much noise in her sleep. Who knew babies were so noisy while sleeping? I have a hard time sleeping at first; I just want to watch her, to know she is okay. Once we make it home together, we will sit in our rocking chair, sing, read, talk, nurse. Joel will bring me water, ask if I need anything. Such a servant. In those quiet moments, the rest of the world will fade to black; nothing is more important than her.
Tenth shot. A tattered book. Chloe's bed. Crying.
It suddenly occurred to me that this was just the way it must have been for the real Holy Family, stuck away in a barn by people who didn't much care what happened to them. They couldn't have been very neat and tidy either, but more like this Mary and Joseph (Imogene's veil was cockeyed as usual, and Ralph's hair stuck out all around his ears). Imogene had the baby doll but she wasn't carrying it the way she was supposed to, cradled in her arms. She had it slung up over her shoulder, and before she put it back in the manger she thumped it twice on the back.
I heard Alice gasp and she poked me. "I don't think it's very nice to burp the baby Jesus," she whispered, "as if he had colic." Then she poked me again. "Do you suppose he could have had colic?"
I said, "I don't know why not," and I didn't. He could have had colic, or been fussy, or hungry like any other baby. After all, that was the whole point of Jesus - that he didn't come down on a cloud like something out of "Amazing Comics," but that he was born and lived . . . a real person.
...But as far as I'm concerned, Mary is always going to look a lot like Imogene Herdman - sort of nervous and bewildered, but ready to clobber anyone who laid a hand on her baby. And the Wise Men are always going to be Leroy and his brothers, bearing ham.
When we came out of the church that night it was cold and clear, with crunchy snow underfoot and bright, bright stars overhead. And I thought about the Angel of the Lord - Gladys, with her skinny legs and her dirty sneakers sticking out from under her robe, yelling at all of us, everywhere:
"Hey! Unto you a child is born!"
Nothing is more important than Him.
Thanks to the Virtual Advent Tour for offering me the chance to record these thoughts. Merry Christmas, friends.