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Finding Harmony in Advent: Day 4

December 4, 2013
The chicken at the manger

The chicken at the manger

A Not-So-Perfect Family

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19 KJV
(For the complete story, use Bible Gateway.)

You don’t get a lot of Christmas cards featuring chickens, but pretend you are the “chicken on the roost”* in the cave getting a glimpse of a young woman and a man who enter. They look kind of stressed and the woman very very “with child,” likely moaning.

Back story, which we thread together from scripture. Mary is pregnant and unmarried. Think her parents were happy? Good Joseph stays engaged to her anyway, surely under the scorn of his family and friends. Then they have to travel when she is almost due, on a donkey, to take care of … taxes. Oh joy. Most of us today would have complained plenty. The “Holy” couple” gets to Bethlehem, and there is no motel. Anywhere. I’m sure Mary knows it is not Joe’s fault but if she is human she’s gotta be gritting through her teeth “Why did he make me come anyway?”

They find a stable, likely in a cave. Again, Mary may be from a different century, but she has lived in a home, not with the cows. That surely had to be more  stress. Then Jesus is born. But the stress is hardly over. Too soon there is the late night trip to Egypt, to escape a King who wants to kill their baby, and succeeds in killing other parents’ little boy babies. This knowledge had to have been a very bitter pill to swallow too. Since we know how the story turns out, we know that eventually Jesus dies the death of a political criminal on a wooden cross. My mother’s heart breaks with Mary’s.

The birth of Jesus is not all sweetness and light. We are not alone in the agony and suffering we go through in this life. Mary and Joseph have been there. Jesus has been there. God is there, with us, no matter what happens.

Can it be? In our messy, imperfect families? In families rocked by an unwanted pregnancy, and differing opinions on how to respond?

A video you may have seen, but bears repeating at this time of year, brings Mary and “Joe’s” dilemma home:

I hope these reflections help bring deep peace this holiday season, even if it is not Christmas-card perfect.


Although not pleasant to recall, when was a time you or your family experienced sadness, loneliness, or difficulty at Christmas? How does that experience speak to you this Advent season?


Parts of this reflection first appeared as an editorial in the magazine Living, which I serve as editor. The Winter 2013 edition has just been published with the story of one family’s worst possible pain which happened last Christmas. You can find it here.


* My photos each day in this Advent series feature figures from a handmade advent calendar I picked up long ago at a yard sale. It quickly became the kids’ favorite, and a permanent addition to our Advent collection and celebrations. I hope you enjoy watching the parade of characters on this virtual advent calendar.


From → Faith, Family Life

  1. Athanasia permalink

    Oh my, it’s like it could still be just this month, but it was actually just before Thanksgiving, 1997. I have 4 brothers and one sister, and there was the one boy, the rogue, the one always in trouble from the time he was born. Called to the principal’s office, visits from the occasional police officer, smoking, drinking, questionable friends, barely managed to graduate. If he had skipped one more day of school he would not have.

    Then as soon as he could he announced he was moving to California with a friend and they were going to stay with the other boy’s dad. So off he went. We missed him, we always loved him, prayed for him though he turned from our faith. Our parents called him every Sunday without fail….often there was no answer but they left a message for him on the machine. He was working in construction he said, when he did talk to them. There was a series of girlfriends, a pet cat, no children.

    We visited him several times over the years, not all of us at once, my parents over the Christmas holidays as they were both teachers. Our other siblings, all of whom are teachers too, visited when they could but we are 2000 miles away. My husband and I and baby son visited in 1985. He made it back here for a wonderful visit in 1990 at Christmas and he met all the rest of our children, except the youngest, for the first time and seemed overwhelmed by how happy everyone was to see him.

    Unfortunately his demons still had hold of him and would continue for years. He missed weddings, baptisms, funerals. Then there seemed to be a turn in the corner…he met a new woman, much more mature and stable than the others, he entered drug treatment, he was able to get back to work. Life was good. They were going to come here for Christmas 1996, but plans were changed to stay there with her parents as they were ailing. They would come the next year. Well one week before Thanksgiving 1997 we received a call…he had died unexpectedly. Not a relapse of drugs, but it turned out to be heart failure and an aneurysm probably attributed to the long years of substance abuse.

    The Christmas never happened. Instead we’re shipped an urn from a funeral home and we are left to plan a memorial service. My parents wondered whether to hold off on the service, but family all said lets go ahead and do over the Christmas season. We’re a large extended family and many of the younger generations who are away, either at school, missions, etc gather between Christmas and New Years.

    So we did and it was so sad but so healing at the same time. His lady friend drove out, bringing us his cat and other items she thought we would want. She filled us in on a lot we didn’t know, and that they had been hoping to share with all of us when they visited.. With the drug treatment came a gradual reconnection with the faith. They had begun attending church and gotten involved and both had been baptised. We had a joyous time of remembrance and sharing and laughing and crying. Everyone brought pictures and stories to tell. Of course lots of food. Then early in 1998 we lost our father, it came on quickly and we barely had time to say goodbye but you could see the peace he had knowing that he would be once again reunited with his long lost beloved son.

  2. Athanasia, you have blown me away with this story. Thank you so much for writing it all out! How wonderful to find out–even after his death–that he had come back to faith. How painful but yet hopeful for any and all in this situation and I know there are plenty. You tell it well. If you would be interested in having it published further, I would be interested in knowing that via a private email. Again, very moving.

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