We went to church on Christmas Eve afternoon with Jeff’s mom, and it was a simple, lovely, musical service. There was a band, maybe five musicians, and the service began with everyone standing to sing a few well-known hymns. Then everyone sat down, there was another song or two, and then a woman came to the microphone to do a short reading from the Bible.
I’m not a religious person, and I’ve really never been a religious person. But, I have my moments — thoughts and situations that truly move me, often on both a spiritual and a human level, if that makes any sense. At Christmas Eve mass, the reading from the Gospel was about the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary, telling her that she would bear a child even though she was a virgin, and that her Son would change the world. I listened to the reading as a mother of two young sons. Imagine being pregnant, and being told that your baby will grow into an amazing and incredible person, someone who will have a positive impact on people’s lives, even hundreds and hundreds of years into the future. Whether you believe the prophecy, or you think you must be losing your marbles, it’s got to be overwhelming to think that the baby who won’t stop kicking you and who makes you have to pee every half hour, will grow into a man who will change the history of the world.
It’s probably no big surprise that, having these kinds of thoughts, I began to get teary-eyed during the reading. Right after the reading, it happened: one or two of the musicians started playing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” one of my favorite hymns, dating back to my Roman Catholic childhood. It did me in. I was mouthing the words even though the musicians weren’t singing, and tears were running down my cheeks. I was sitting on the end of our row, and Ryan was next to me. He’d been leaning on me sometimes, or holding my hand. When he saw that I was crying, he kept looking at me, touching me, and once he wiped the tears from my face. The band started singing the hymn, but I don’t remember if everyone sang; I don’t think so, I think it was only the musicians.
Thinking of the years I went to Catholic Church always reminds me of my dad. Thinking of motherhood made me think of my mother, too, and that she only passed away 14 months ago. I wondered what my sons will be like when they grow up. Ryan didn’t ask why I was crying, just leaned against my arm and held my hand. (There’s some hope yet, maybe he’ll turn out all right!) And Jeff, ever the caretaker, yet seemingly unaware at times that his wife’s thoughts and emotions are too complicated to explain, began to whisper, “Are you okay?” and “What’s the matter?” Thankfully we were in the back row of the balcony, where few people outside my family would notice me — and the church was mostly dark anyway.
So it was Mary and Gabriel, Jesus the Savior, the two beautiful yet frustrating boys whom Jeff and I brought into the world, the mother and father (now gone, both of them) who brought me into the world, and Grandma without Papa, and the idea that the only reason Jesus was born was to die, that He died so we could live, so hopefully our loved ones aren’t really gone, but are waiting peacefully for us to join them… It was ALL of those things that did me in, and this:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Those who are in pain, who are imprisoned, whose lives are constant struggle, who grow closer each day to losing all hope: Rejoice! You will be saved, your suffering will end!
I’m not a religious person, not really, but the message touches me deeply, and I try to believe it. And I’ve always, always loved that song.