this morning i rushed around, putting on make-up, pinning bobby pins in my hair, trying to finish a batch of brownies for the potluck today. i wrestled my ferociously opinionated daughter into her christmas dress, desperately tried to smooth her hair into pigtails. there were a few time-outs, a few threats of no cookies after church. the husband was out snow blowing, we all barely made it to church in time.
in the car, i find out that the wife of my friend and editor has passed away this morning. her battle with cancer was swift and vicious and it knocks the breathe out of me, strips away the illusions we build up about life and fairness and invincibility. she had a daughter, only a year older than mine. i sit in the car and cry and cry. my husband takes my daughter in and gets her dressed in her little lamb costume.
the pageant is chaotic, a gentle fiasco, my daughter refuses to sing and stands with her back to the congregation. i, like the other mothers of the young, have to stand on stage too, am in this pageant myself. we get through it, all mumbles and grins. the children race down the aisle so they can go to the nursery room and play with toys. they are only pretending to be gentle little lambs. was it a disaster? i don’t really know. but i can’t help but think that it is exactly how jesus would have wanted it to be: defiant three year olds, scared two year olds, exuberant babies, awkward middle schoolers, tired and grateful mothers. let the little children come to me, he said, and this morning my church embodied that.
there is a baptism, later, after the pageant. the light streams down through the stained glass and i can’t believe what all takes place in this beat-up, broken down city of mine. people die. people get married. people drink gallon after gallon of vodka, alone in their apartments. little children dress up like lambs and march down the church aisle, proclaiming jesus is born. people make casseroles and brownies and eat them together at card tables. people get baptized into something far bigger than themselves, others come and embrace them into it.
I’ve read the gospels every December of my life and I know that story like a glossy picture book. but now i am reading Isaiah, who foretold that story and highlighted the necessity of why it had to be. here it is that i am finding the story of the new city, the one in which a little child shall lead us all. this passage takes on new meaning as one who lives surrounded by refugees–people who have lost everything, all the fruits of their life vanished. God sees it all, and a new day is dawning. one where we cannot escape how loved and redeemed we are, one where we finally know our true names.
On your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have set watchmen;
all the day and all the night
they shall never be silent.
You who put the Lord in remembrance,
take no rest,
7 and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes it a praise in the earth.
8 The Lord has sworn by his right hand
and by his mighty arm:
“I will not again give your grain
to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink your wine
for which you have laboured;
9 but those who garner it shall eat it
and praise the Lord,
and those who gather it shall drink it
in the courts of my sanctuary.”
10 Go through, go through the gates;
prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway;
clear it of stones;
lift up a signal over the peoples.
11 Behold, the Lord has proclaimed
to the end of the earth:
Say to the daughter of Zion,
“Behold, your salvation comes;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.”
12 And they shall be called The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.
the best days are the ones where i know what it is that i am doing. i am preparing the way for the new city. i am moving the debris, one christmas pageant at a time. i am clearing the rubble, prayer by prayer. i am building up the highway, with every christmas carol sung into the air. but still–living in the old city, i long for the new. i get more desperate for it, the more the old one fails me.
the new city is coming; on days like today, it feels so close i can even see it shimmer.