Every December 1, my mind fleets back to 1986 and to a small bedroom in a small apartment in Seattle. My wife, Janet, and I had just opened the first window in the Advent calendar when Jan announced that I had better call the doctor because it looked like it was “time.”
Each moment of that graced evening stays with me. I remember a hauntingly beautiful moment as we passed in the dead of night over the Evergreen Point Bridge which spans Lake Washington between Seattle and Bellevue, when the fog off the lake curled up and over the bridge–and our car–like the palm of God’s Hand. I remember holding Jan’s hand through the labor, cracking jokes with her and the nurses, praying and wishing there were something I could do as labor got intense. But most of all, I remember the birth of our son, Luke Patrick Shea, and the amazement of seeing it and him with my mortal eyes. It was a sacred moment. My beloved was mine and I was hers to such a degree that a new soul had sprung into being like a laugh out of God’s heart.
Returning home with Jan and Luke a few days later, we tucked him into his new crib, swaddled against the cold and sung to sleep with lullabies. Then we found the Advent calendar and opened the windows we had neglected during the past three day’s ruckus. December 2–Luke’s birthday–had the Scripture from Isaiah the Prophet: “Unto a us a child is born. Unto us a son is given.”
Such divine whimsy.
And such solemnity.
When I read that verse now I can’t help but wonder how Our Lady felt at the birth of her Son. One wonderful children’s story called The Best Christmas Pageant Ever tells the tale of a gang of rowdy toughs who muscle in on the Church Christmas Pageant and find themselves confronting the gospel story for the very first time in their little pagan lives. At one point somebody cites this passage from Isaiah and the raucous little cuss who grabbed the role of Mary retorts: “Unto me a child is born!”
In a certain sense, the reaction is understandable. What would it be like to have a Son who is, quite literally, destined to be given to the whole world? What would be it be like to think that this precious little boy I hold on my lap is the Son, not just of me, but of Man, whose very Body and Blood (Body and Blood he received from me) is to be the food and drink of the whole groaning, crying, clamoring, miserable, selfish, ungrateful world?
Could I offer my son to such a world?
The question is more than speculation. For the reality is that, in Christ, we must offer our sons and daughters to just such a world as surely as Mary did. Our children are not our property. They belong to God and exist to be chosen, blessed, broken and given by him in Christ just as surely as Jesus was. For we are members of Christ and, in him, of one another. Where he goes and what he does we–and our little ones–must also go and do.
I sometimes wonder if this is part of the reason God has given us, not just Jesus, but our Mother Mary and all the saints. For everybody knows that it is easier to offer oneself than to offer a loved one up to God in sacrifice. Jesus shows us how to offer ourselves, but it is Mary who shows us how to endure watching him do it and how to trust in God that, just as her labor issued in the birth of her Son and ours, so his Passion will issue in an infinitely greater Rebirth from death, not just for him, not just for Mary, but for the whole world.