Sarah

My brother Joseph once happened upon a friend of his at a community crèche exhibit.  “Mary!” he called out, running towards her.  “Joseph!” she called back, running towards him.  They met and hugged and then realized they were standing directly in front of the nativity scene.  The Blessed Family, in fond embrace.

I love that story.

I’d like to wax eloquent here about how we find ourselves in the Christmas story.  How we reenact it each year, not just for the play of it or for the presentation or for the way it gives us something to do on Christmas Eve.  But how we put on the sheets and tie the piano bench covers to our heads and crawl on all fours like donkeys so we can find ourselves at the stable too.  So we can try to feel for a moment, for a half-hour, what it would have been like to be there, how we might have felt.  I could have been a shepherd, we think.  Those angels could have sung to me.  I could have been the innkeeper.  I could have turned the new family away.

But the nativity story has few roles for women.  Only one, unless you include Elizabeth and retell it the long way.  And as a child, I never wanted to be Mary.  She was so passive.  If she ever had lines, they were so quiet, just questions, and always early in the evening.  How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

I preferred to be the angel—not an angel, but the angel, if the roles worked out that we only needed one—so I could stand on the piano bench and make a lot of proclamations.  White robe, strong voice, clear messages:  Fear not!  Blessed art thou!  Call his name Jesus!  Glory to God!  As an angel, I was genderless but kind of a big deal.

I no longer want to be the angel.  I want, both at Christmas and in my real life, for my gender to matter, even though, it turns out, it so rarely does right now.  I worry that I might need to be a mother before I will find myself in the story again.  To feel the part the women feel.  To have been with child and to feel the fear and the love and the holiness that (I guess, I guess?) comes with it.  At its most distilled, Christmas is a story of Woman and Child.  Even crèche exhibits sometimes include displays that are just two people, just Mother and Son.

Christmas in one sentence: A woman gave birth to a miracle, to a future God, to a baby.

I got a glimpse of my motherness one day—just a flash, a false flash of it one moment of one day—when I was lying in bed in my sisters’ room.  I was home, for Christmas even, and I was lying in the sheets of a double bed, with my left arm outstretched.  I had been reading my scriptures, so they were lying next to me, kind of on my arm, in the crook of my arm.  And I was facing them.  My father came into the room and stood in the doorway to ask me a question.  I turned to the right to look at him, but didn’t move my arm, didn’t move my scriptures.  And for a second, I felt like my mom or my sister or my best friend, women I have seen lying with their babies cradled in bed.  My scriptures are fat and heavy and shaped, if you think generously, like a compact little baby.  A small one, weighty in its baby way.  And even though my baby was a book and made no demands on me, I felt for a moment like a mother.  Like I might be a woman with motherliness in me, even though I’m not married, even though I’m still single, even though my baby is no baby at all.

And so this season, as I go from Christmas services to Christmas pageant, I’m going to ponder this question in my heart: Isn’t this part of the Christmas story, too—that God found in a virgin the makings of a mother?

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