Christmas Is Not (Just) A Story

There’s nothing like a little baby to make a household happy. The Hennesseys have had a run of good luck in that department—little babies landing on our doorstep at a pretty regular clip the last few years.

The latest is Our Billy, a mischievous and scampering adventure pirate if ever one existed.

Billy is teething now. He moans and groans. Keeps us up all hours. Starts out in his crib, ends up in our bed. It’s exhausting. But, man, does he know how to put a smile on my face.

He’s mostly all cheeks. The sight of him slaughters me.

The feeling I get gazing at him is love, I guess, but it deserves a different name. It’s bigger than love, really. Deeper than love. More.

Maybe the wind knows its name.

Even when Our Billy’s rooting around under the sink, or sneaking up the stairs, or disabling my phone with his fat fingers, or whimpering like a stranded seal at midnight, I can’t find it in me to get angry. My voice may deepen and sharpen when I do my Big Daddy Discipline routine. But it’s all for show.

Our Billy is the world. He can do no wrong. Not now.

The day may come when he strays from the path his mother and I set him on. I can’t imagine loving Our Billy any less when he does.

It’s impossible for me to think of the Christmas story without thinking of how happy the appearance of that little baby Jesus must have made his parents.

It wasn’t your typical delivery-room scene. The Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph were improvising. Their circumstances were dire; the future looked grim.

Then the baby came and all was quiet. All was bright.

A baby has a way of making a household happy. The miracle in the manger made the world happy, but first it made the Holy Family happy. It even made them a family.

A friend posted a drawing on Facebook recently of a young couple outside a 24-hour convenience store in an urban neighborhood. She’s in an advanced state of pregnancy, sitting on an out-of-order mechanical pony, 25 cents per ride. He’s on a payphone, 25 cents per call, with a phonebook open on his knee.

It’s a believable scenario, a modern couple in a tough spot after dark. A sign advertising NO VACANCY looms atop a motel in the background. Anxiety.

But at their feet, almost hidden amidst the litter and decay, a tiny green flower is breaking through a crack in the pavement—a shoot sprouting from the stump of Jesse.

Just in case you don’t get it, the name on his work shirt is José. Her sweatshirt reads Nazareth High School. It’s Mary and Joseph, and the little baby unborn Jesus—a 25-cent Christmas Eve in Anytown, U.S.A.

The spirit of the Lord rests upon them.

One night my train was delayed. I ended up spending more time in the basement of Grand Central Terminal than I’d normally prefer. Watching the commuters coming and going, toing and froing, it was hard to shake the impression that we’re all just meat—no different than hordes of swarming insects.

Thousands of millions rushing hither and thither for no good reason, satisfying our selfish appetites, playing with our dopey toys, and pursuing our mindless obsessions. I know I’m not the first to wonder in a moment of weakness how it’s possible that we can all be special in God’s eyes.

There are so many of us. There have been so many of us. There will be many more of us after you and I are gone. He can’t possibly know us all. He can’t know me, you, and every down-and-out José and Maria.

When I’m in these moods, it’s tempting to think that Christmas is just a convenient story.

Then I see those fat cheeks and those sky-blue eyes. I hear the moaning and groaning of our little stranded seal curled up in bed between me and my wife. Then I get the picture.

I know Our Billy. I know all of him, just as God knows all of me. Just as He knows everyone who ever lived and ever will.

Just as He knows the name that’s written on the wind.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours.

From the December 2017 issue of Fairfield County Catholic

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