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In his perhaps most Ron Weasley-ish moment, Ron responds to Hermione’s description of the many emotions Cho Chang is experiencing as she grieves Cedric and then starts to fall for Harry with this exclamation: “A person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode!”
If 2020 has proven anything, it’s that a person can, in fact, feel all that at once.
Today is a prime example.
On a usual Christmas Eve, my family gathers for Chinese food at my parent’s table, then cleans up (never presents before dishes!), before opening gifts in the living room. Tonight, like so many of you, we’ll gather via Zoom, our three households making their own meals, our gifts shipped and wrapped ourselves. Of course, I feel sad about this. This isn’t Christmas as I had hoped. I miss my family tremendously.
And then I feel guilty. At least I have a family to call! What of my childhood friend whose dad died of a heart attack a couple weeks ago? Or the hundreds of thousands who have lost loved ones to Covid? Or to the slow creep of cancer, or dementia? I should be grateful, not sad. And I am. Along with the sadness, and the guilt, is gratitude.
I’m also excited about today, mostly because of a jar of homemade tomato confit that I’ll use in tonight’s dinner. Tomato confit itself isn’t all that exciting. It’s just tomatoes roasted in oil and basil. But to me, it symbolizes a change, a newfound delight in cooking and preparing my own food. Which happened, I’m quite confident, as a result of Covid and those endless hours spent at home with nothing better to do than…cook. And eat. So now I’m sad, guilty, grateful, excited, and confused (because I think I’m grateful for the new rhythms Covid has introduced…but not grateful for Covid).
It’s a lot for one person to hold. And I’d wager I’m not alone. We’re all holding a lot right now.
Which makes me think about Mary. Very few Biblical characters have uninteresting lives, but the year of Mary’s life up to and including the birth of Jesus was a real rollercoaster. The shock of an angel appearing. The fear of telling people. The on again, off again, on again relationship with Joseph. The jubilation of Elizabeth. A major journey to an unknown place with a relatively unknown husband. A first pregnancy and birth – in a stable, no less. And, of course, the knowledge that her son would also be the Son of God.
When Mary treasured the words of the shepherds in her heart, and pondered what they had said, I imagine she was pondering a whole heap of other things too. Was she terrified of the task that lay before her? Thrilled with the tiny child whose eyes looked like hers? Utterly exhausted from the journey and birth? Awed and inspired by the goodness of God? Unsure what her future looked like?
Could Mary even make sense of everything she was feeling? Or was she just a muddle of emotions – weary, and yet rejoicing?
Weary and yet rejoicing. I’m not the world’s greatest fan of “O Holy Night” but I love that line – “The weary world rejoices.” I love it for all the tension those four words hold. Josh Groban doesn’t croon, “The perfect world rejoices” or “The cheery world rejoices.” No – that would be too simple. And inaccurate. The world – even as the angels sang – lay in darkness and sorrow. The incarnation of the Christ did not, and does not, negate the weariness of a world waiting for full and total redemption.
But it does change that weariness. Declares that weariness will not have the final say, but even as we hold our weariness, there is yet room for rejoicing.
It is one of the great truths of life lived in this beautiful, complicated, and waiting world, that all of the things can be true at once. I can be sad about being distant from family, grateful (so grateful!) that I have family yet to call, and delighted in the meal I have made. We can celebrate the surprising gifts we have received or things we have learned this last year, even as we long for things to change. We can feel the first glimmers of hope as vaccines are distributed even as we grieve for those we lost. We can cry and laugh at the same time as we think of those we love.
We can celebrate the birth of a Savior, even as we long for his coming.
We can be weary and rejoicing.
The Christ child will bear it all.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.