In December 1993, the "traditional choir" at Santa Bovina church (my old parish) sang with Peatown United Methodist's choir in a two-evening concert series. One of the songs we sang was a gorgeous piece called "Carol of the Manger," which still makes me a little teary-eyed to this day. The final verse (if memory recalls) goes like this:
Mary in the morning, beside the manger
All the shepherds gone, no more angel choirs...
And the future in her arms.
One does have to wonder what happened when the sun came up on Christmas morning -- what Joseph and Mary must have thought. Here they were, a teen mother and her betrothed, with a miracle child announced to them separately by angels. Here they were, stuck in a cave at best, a crude barn at worst, and laying this precious little bundle in the feeding trough because nothing else is available. And in the midst of all this miracle stuff that they're trying to process, here come shepherds -- simple, poor, country people -- wanting to see their baby.
Can you imagine what Joseph might have said at that time? "Our baby? But why? Wait, wait -- you were on the hillsides with the sheep and the skies opened? Great light came through and an angel -- Mary, what IS it with these angels? -- an angel told you that you would find the Messiah in Bethlehem? Swaddling clothes ... lying in a manger? Well, yes, that would be us. Oh, and there was an angelic choir alongside? You know, given everything that's happened over the last year, it doesn't surprise me at all. Yes, please, come in ... here he is."
And once the shepherds were gone, and the sun was up, and it was just this tiny little holy family. The hubbub has died down, and it's just them. The first day of life outside the womb for eternity-stepping-into-time and boundlessness-into-physical-space (thanks to Fr. Sandy for the phrases). Reality sets in and the quiet of regular life comes tiptoeing in. A baby who does cry, who pees and poops and yawns and does everything else a baby does.
Of course, there's more to come in the story ... much more. Spread across two Gospels, and the timing is still not quite known for sure. We can take guesses. We know that they were in Bethlehem for a while. We know that he was circumcised on the eighth day, in accordance with the Law. We know that forty days after, because he was a boy-child, Mary was to go to the Temple for purification and to present him. We know that at some point, they were in a house -- so they might have stayed in Bethlehem for Joseph to do some work to earn enough money for the return trip to Nazareth, but who knows? And while they were in this house ... perhaps when Jesus was even around 18 months old or so ... astrologers from the Orient came to find him, unwittingly stopping by Herod's to inquire about the new King. Rut-roh!!! They found him, and gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Myrrh? An embalming spice? What the...? Oh well, it brings lots of money.
Mary & Joseph were going to need it. Once again, angels intervene, to both Joseph and the Oriental sages -- Get out now, Joseph -- head toward Egypt. Trust us on this. Hey, magi: Go back home a different way! Herod, in his madness and anger and fear at losing his kingdom, orders all males under age 2 in Bethlehem and the few surrounding hamlets slaughtered. Rounded up and killed for no other reason than insanity.
But before all that happened, it was a quiet morning in Bethlehem. A little cooing, a little stirring, a couple of changes of swaddles, and probably a lot of napping. And lots of pondering. In the quiet, lots and lots of wondering just what all the events of the night before meant, and how it would all turn out.
Every major religious festival in this time has a similar theme: light triumphing over darkness. Whether it's the lights of the menorah, the fire of the Yule log, or the light of Christ, it all shares the universal hope for peace and justice.
During this time of celebrating the light, enjoy the quiet of the Christmas morning. Best wishes to you and yours.