At the end of a long, often divisive and tragic year, the simplicity of the nativity—the shepherds and wise men, the lowing cattle—might feel insufficient. Here, Graham Murtaugh, a second-year MA in Counseling Psychology student, shares a beautiful reflection, part prayer and part plea, for that baby in the manger.
Baby, I’m not sure I can handle you this year. I’ve ripped off all the cardboard doors and thrown out the chocolate bells and wreaths. I scattered the plastic cattle and shepherds from the mantle and I’ve a mind to set the manger on fire. No place left to rest your tender head, no altar for foreign kings to come and genuflect, offering tidings of frankincense and gold. If I can keep you out of this scene, maybe I can save you from all the pain and passion we’re all breathlessly waiting to lay at your feet.
Hey, baby, listen, please: stay away. Just this once. I can’t bear to look in your cherubic face, bathed in the light of stars and a song so soft it might just be angels. You can’t know what awaits—can you?—but this is how we tell the story: backwards, with the lonely end in sight. You are quiet, no crying to make, while all around our cry goes up. And, oh baby, what a cry. Yet, maybe, by some divine light, you do know, somewhere deep inside, who you’ll come to be. At least that’s the gift we hope for this year, every year: the hope of the child born to die.
Sweet baby, my heart is a heavy star hung in the east. To ask so much of one so small. We walk slow laps around the house while I hum you a litany of carols. God rest ye merry gentleman. Let nothing you dismay. Peace on earth, goodwill to men. You reach out for the ox and ass, the funny humped camels, the robed men bowing. You try to eat the tinsel and giggle at the winking lights hidden in the tree. I want to follow your lead and let the world exist just as it is, in such complex simplicity. I wonder at the song’s insistence to fall on my knees.
I confess, baby, I hear no angelic jubilee this year. Only a choir full of woe after such a year as this, wondering: what do we dare ask of you, a child—even the Child of the Most High? It will be us, baby, who brings you to an end so far off. But not yet. On this silent night I see you simply as the sleeping child, lost to dreams you’ll never know. A child to love. A child to be loved by in return.
I confess, baby, I hear no angelic jubilee this year.
Oh, baby, maybe that’s all I need this dark season. Not the promise of who you’ll be, for how could you know? How could any of us—gathered in living rooms to hold ourselves close, singing of promises we’re not quite sure we believe—how could any of us know anything for sure? So much pain, baby, so much loss. Yet, swaddled in a dark veil, there you are: the out-of-focus brilliance, a squirming reminder that life lives on.
Please, baby, come and stay. Remind us to do the same. So smile and laugh at the funny animals, wreath yourself in glistening tinsel, and stare bright-eyed at the shining angels we can’t see crying Hallelujah! We’ll laugh as we’re able, singing the song to pass on the gift as best we can of peace on earth, goodwill to men.