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The blast of Arctic air hit me full in the face as I left my office building last night after working late trying to tie up loose ends before my surgery today. With the infamous Chicago wind-chill, it felt as if it had dropped several decades of degrees since I arrived that morning, but the frosted air cleared my head as I hurried to my car.

And then I saw it – a single bright star hovering low on the horizon like a pin-hole punched in dark fabric. I had been seeing that star through Mary’s eyes many times in the past two weeks, but there was no robe and veil this time, no platform, no audience. Just a woman in pain, alone in an ocean of concrete, gloved hand raised in praise, arrested by the brightness.

“That’s what it must have been like that night in Bethlehem,” I thought.

Somehow I think Mary didn’t call Joseph over immediately when she saw that astral phenomenon in the sky over the cave where her child lay that cold, dark night. I suspect it was yet one more treasure she tucked in her heart to pull out and ponder later.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.

Sleep for me has been anything but deep. A shoulder injury sustained last May has caused intense pain that has tightened like a vise, and after months of physical therapy the last recourse is surgery. Today. We leave in an hour.

But physical pain pales in comparison to the emotional pain many friends are experiencing. A close friend is in divorce court even as I type these words, and yet she took the time to email me encouraging words despite her own pain. I arrived home in the dark last night to find frozen stew and rolls in a bag on our front porch left by another friend who is also going under the knife this morning. I wanted to take a meal to Jill, but she beat me to it.

A beloved niece is battling malaria. Members of our church family are searching for employment. A colleague my age at work and another younger friend on Cape Cod both lost their husbands suddenly 10 days ago. In the long stretches of predawn darkness when my physical pain has prevented sleep, I have talked to God again and again about these needs.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.

As Mike and I head to Edward Hospital shortly, I carry both hope and fear with me. No, not about my bad arm. I have a spare. But pregnant within my heart are the hopes and fears I carry for those whose needs hugely exceed my own.

 Hope that the widowed will find comfort. Hope that the betrayed wife will receive justice. Hope that the unemployed will be offered work.

And as for the fears demanding to be born – False Expectations Appearing Real? They are not for myself. They never were.

God is running this universe, not me. He is never more surely with those I love than when I am not. That’s what Emmanu -El means: God with us.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.