It seems the most underappreciated aspect of Christmas is that it’s about a baby. Amid the commercial hoopla of Santa Claus, of theologians pondering what it means for God to become human, little is said about a baby. There’s more discussion in the Gospels about shepherds, angels, dreams and the wise men.
But not much about a baby. No details beyond his swaddling clothes and improvised cradle. No report of the child’s reaction to the looming Magi and their costly (if inappropriate) gifts. No record of whether he spit up a lot, what his mother used for diapers or how long he’d sleep at a stretch—all subjects of monumental importance to young mothers.
I went with my daughter Jean to a hospital “mothering” class when Samuel was 3 weeks old. The room was cluttered with diaper bags, strollers, baby carriers, the overload of paraphernalia without which today’s mom wouldn’t venture out the door. I wonder what “necessities” the Christmas baby’s mother carried when she set forth across the brutal 200 miles to Egypt.
The Christmas baby became a refugee in Egypt, and I wonder about his grandmother, Ann (see note). Had she been with her daughter before the baby came, to reassure her and pass on a mother’s secrets? Did she have time to get acquainted with her grandbaby before his parents saved him from Herod? Might she have gone with them when they fled? Did Ann even know where the tiny family was? Was she waiting when they returned and settled in Nazareth? Did she have other grandchildren to hold and spoil or did she lose them to Herod’s soldiers?
My grandbaby is safe and secure in a Virginia townhouse—too far from Georgia for us to see him often. His parents sent a photo recently in which his paternal grandmother is holding him, and I felt an embarrassing stab of jealousy. He’s grown just since Thanksgiving, and I probably won’t see him until June. He’ll have grown so much and learned so much, and I’ll miss it all. I’m beginning to understand friends who rent apartments near their grandchildren or drive hundreds of miles each month to spend time with them.
Jean and her family put up the tree last week, and she wrote: “You’ve never seen Christmas lights until you’ve seen them reflected in a baby’s eyes. He just stared and kicked and cooed.” Sure, I had the same experience with her and her sisters, but it’s not the same. This is different. I can’t speak for all distant grandmothers, of course, but I crave to hold “my” wee boy, feeling the weight of that solid body lying against my own. I can imagine my hands under that round bottom, the pummeling of little fists, the fragrant wobbly head sometimes crashing into mine, the thrust of stretching legs. Then the soft breathing and tiny murmurs when he sleeps against my breast.
How did patient Ann bear it, not to hold Mary’s baby and feel him grow, not even to know if he was dead or alive?
Something is missing this Christmas, something that was never even there before.
(Note: St. Ann, the grandmother of Jesus, is not mentioned in the Bible. Early Christian legend gives Joachim and Ann as the names of Mary's parents.)
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