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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Leon

On the 3rd Day of Christmas...

This week, I look deep into the eyes of sweet baby Jesus and I hear his voice -- Will you come close? Will you trust me? Can I be enough for you? Will you let yourself be loved by me?

Gage and Monkey

The heart of Christmas is a love story. In fact, the entirety of salvation history from the Garden of Eden to Christ’s death on the cross is the greatest love story ever told. When Adam and Eve lived with the Lord in the Garden of Eden, they had deep union with God. They were always in His presence, could hear His voice, lived in pure communion with Him – until that first and greatest sin when they forgot to trust God.

God gave us everything in the garden and it still wasn’t enough. We didn’t trust. We were ungrateful. Yet, even before our exile in this valley of tears, God began His love story and promised a savior who would save us from ourselves and return us to God’s heart and His presence; all because He loves us and longs for us. Loves you and longs for you.

The God of the Old Testament was powerful and mighty and full of justice, rewarding and punishing his chosen people and their enemies according to their deeds. But the true heart of God is a powerful love. At Christmas, He offers us that love in the flesh through the Incarnation. Gone is the power and might and the sword. God could certainly have chosen to save the world that way (and many thought he would), but He didn’t. He came in the smallest, most innocent and tender of ways—as a little child. Powerless not powerful. Humble not mighty. The helpless baby Jesus. If we look into His eyes, He offers us an invitation to His heart, the heart of the Eternal Father:

Will you come close?

Will you love me?

Will you trust me?

Can I be enough for you?

Will you let me love you?

Think of this!!! Baby Jesus, the God of the Universe, in that most vulnerable baby. I believe He comes as the most loveable, innocent, pure baby because He LONGS for us. He longs for us to draw closer to Him and hear His voice, hear this invitation to intimacy with Him. Who can resist a baby?????

He wants to be irresistable to us.

To me. To you.

The Christmas story began with an invitation from Gabriel to Mary. She answers yes in faith and trust an invitation she doesn’t fully understand but that plunges her instantly into the presence of her God – total communion and intimacy with Him as He begins to form within her. God with us.

I contemplate this mystery again but no longer from a safe and shiny distance. I feel very close to the story and the hardships and sufferings that go along with saying yes to God. I look deep into the eyes of that sweetest baby Jesus again and I hear His voice -- Will you come close? Will you trust me? Can I be enough for you? Will you let yourself be loved by me? And I say yes. I do. He is the Lord I seek with my life… lifeless and parched like the dry earth for water. But during some seasons, as with the Christmas story, a yes can be very painful.

For sure, there is joy. Christmas is first and foremost a season of joy. The wait was over. The Savior had come. God’s redemption was at hand. Yes. Shepherds and kings came and angels sang. The supernatural peace and love of these moments must be beyond our comprehension.

But God chose to enter the world as a human through a human and in the stink of humanity. So there is also suffering. Mary and Joseph endured cold and hunger and exhaustion plus the physical hardships of hundreds of miles on foot or on a donkey and fleeing for their lives. They lived the drudgery of daily labor, the anxiety of losing their young son, and Mary had the unbearable agony of watching Jesus suffer and die. Christ himself knew all our griefs and sufferings from rejection to being falsely accused, from being over-worked and misunderstood to being scourged and hung to die. There is not a human pain He was spared, and yet simultaneously, He is the very incarnation of love, the fullness of joy, and the prince of peace. All at the same time.

This is my Christmas. We were blessed and thrilled to have all 9 of our living children here with us, plus 2 fiancés and a boyfriend. So much joy and love and fun and blessing all around. Christmas Eve felt like a miracle of family time as the 14 of us sat in a circle in our family room playing a question game, reading from the bible to finish our Jesse Tree, and enjoying having the kids exchange their “Sibling Santa” gifts with one another. We put on our Christmas best and all went to 8 pm mass where we were blessed to make music together – two highlights were Leah singing “O Holy Night” and James playing the organ. Our traditional raucous carol-singing filled the van on the way home as we tried to squeeze in a few more Christmas lights. We took priceless photos of our time together.

And all at the same time – the sorrow and the pain. Our sweetest boy no longer here. Our Christmas baby. Born on the 11th day of Christmas and gone on the 12th. Our family tradition of singing the Twelve Days of Christmas before dinner– one additional verse each day all the way to Epiphany... It now feels like a death march. I desperately do not want to get to the 12 Drummers Drumming. Ever again. Can we please just stop at the Pipers Piping??? I am desperate. Please.

The joy of Christmas Eve overflows into agony Christmas morning as Ralph and I wake and the tears flow between us, both clutching one soft blue blankey and a 4-pound monkey. We do not mean to hide the depths of our sadness from the children, but it is most often in these quiet moments when all the “doings” are done that we have the space to open our hearts and the grief comes pouring out. On this tender Christmas morning Ralph weeps with me as we remember and share our longing for our son. The agony is worse this week. Something of the light outside and the Christmas tree and the smells and sounds of the season collide deeply inside me – an emotional muscle memory that triggers the rawness of the wound when John Paul Raphael was first ripped away.

When we are ready, noses red and eyes swollen, we dress and stuff the stockings we were too tired to fill the night before and head down to our children and the joy of Christmas morning. We carry our blankie and our broken hearts. There is laughter and love and cinnamon rolls. Plenty of prosecco and gifts and later dominos and beef tenderloin. An ornament commemorating John Paul Raphael’s first Christmas in Heaven and a bracelet reminding us that we will always remember.

This is Christ’s invitation to us. To draw so close that we feel him both in the joy and in the pain. To understand and accept that His journey was joy and pain and if we unite our lives to Him, ours will be too. To know deeply that He is Emmanuel – God WITH us. With us in the love and in the sorrow. He endured it all for us and holds us as we too endure. His love is enough. He can be trusted to hold us and carry our love to our son. I fight for this. Struggle to live this truth in faith -- to not fall into the fear and ingratitude of my first parents. To live with gratitude in the joy and the pain, trusting they are both His love. That I find my Savior and my son most when I live them both together.

On the 3rd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: three French hens.

Let yourself be loved.

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