By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 10, 2015
“You need to volunteer at an animal shelter,” my sister said, when I was in the initial shock of grief. “You need something to give you joy.”
But an image immediately took shape in my imagination—yours truly driving along with dogs and cats of various shapes and sizes sticking their heads out the car windows.
“It’s not going to work,” I sighed. “I’d take all the animals home with me.”
The next day, my dearest friend mentioned that a local church was seeking additional voices for its chancel choir’s Dec. 13 production of “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.”
“Why don’t we give it a try?” she suggested.
My voice is average at best—but I love singing, so I mulled this possibility over for a while. After all, the days were growing shorter as Advent approached—and the pitch-black evenings were becoming harder to fill.
Clearly, Advent can be an exciting time for people who are baking and wrapping gifts and mailing cards, but a tough time for anyone struggling with emotional, spiritual or physical problems.
Still, in a beautiful book, “A Child in Winter,” Caryll Houselander recommends that we be patient with our earthly pain—and realize that “Advent is not only the time of growth but also of darkness and hiding and waiting.”
She advises trusting that “Christ is growing in our sorrow”—and in due season, “all the fret and and strain and tension of it will give place to a splendor of peace.”
With these words in mind, I emailed the director, assuring him that no choir had kicked me out—yet—and he wrote back exuberantly, “We’d love to have you join us!”
Before long, I was driving a few miles to the brightly lit First Baptist Church in Avondale Estates for my first rehearsal.
Frankly, I was nervous about walking into a roomful of strangers, but my trepidation dissolved when people stopped by to welcome me, and the lady next to me whispered, “I’m so glad you’re here.”
Now the lyrics play in my head throughout the day with my favorite song being “How Far Is It to Bethlehem?” written by Chris Anderson and Frances Alice Chesterton, the wife of British author G.K. Chesterton.
How far is it to Bethlehem, not very far? Shall we find the stable room lit by a star? Can we see the little Child, is He within? If we lift the wooden latch, may we go in?
The simple words remind me of the one who said: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
To me, Christmas calls us to that conversion, because we once again embrace the miracle that God himself became a little one, fulfilling what Isaiah foretold, “A little child will lead them.”
May we pet the creatures there, oxen or sheep? May we peek like them and see Jesus asleep? If we touch His tiny hand, will He awake? Will He know we’ve come so far just for His sake?
During Advent we tread a mystical path taking us to a silent and peaceful place where the divine becomes human, the almighty becomes helpless—and heaven touches earth.
Great kings bring him precious gifts, but we do not, sweet smiles on our little lips are all we’ve brought.
Even in our suffering, even during the dark days, the shining promise of Christmas is imbued with a mysterious joy. And in some inexplicable way, it seems that Bethlehem is as close as our own hearts.
“Nativity” by Jef Murray. Lorraine Murray’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.