Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

A Singularly Memorable Christmas

December 29, 2018 by

If there is one thing the Bruderhof knows how to do well, it is Advent. For the uninitiated, Advent is the time between the fourth Sunday before Christmas and Christmas itself – roughly a month brim-full of expectation, song, time spent together, and the ubiquitous edibles.

two children baking bread for Christmas

I’ve experienced plenty of Advents, each one singularly memorable. Strikingly singular was Advent 2017. As I lived it, I found it the unparalleled nadir of all Advents – absolute rock-bottom, the pits.

My husband grovelled around with a nasty flu for the first week and a half; I am not a Nurse Nellie type, especially if it’s an adult who is ailing, so we were both miserable. The moment he recovered, I succumbed. My siege with illness lasted into the new year.

Plus, I could not engage with my regular cookie baking, decorating, and card-writing. I simply could not grab hold of Advent in any shape or form. Unnervingly, the spirit of Christmas-coming fluttered somewhere beyond my grasp for those entire four weeks of Advent. It was kind of spooky.

Mercifully, the lifeline of our Christmas Eve experience rescued me, and over the opening months of 2018 all the grisly Advent bits submerged themselves in my uncharted depths, sunk so I thought in oblivion, but their stuporous effects lingered. I only know this because as October 2018 waned and November crept forward, I did not anticipate Advent as I usually do. Red scented candles held no allure, nor did my favourite Christmas music and pre-Advent activities.

I clung doggedly to autumn, swishing through leaves, morphing pumpkins into pies, and concentrating on turkeys and harvest festivals. I stubbornly surrounded myself with various pokey seed pods and anything else in shades of brown and orange.

At last, when Advent was only a week away, I unexpectedly caught up with the calendar. What a relief, because the Advent season of dizzily busy preparation and joyful celebration is one every Bruderhof mother (as well as grandmother) needs to propel herself into with all systems go, destination: Christmas.

Last Advent’s wretched disconnectedness remained incomprehensible until I recently read Loretta Ross-Gotta’s piece entitled “To Be Virgin” in Plough’s book of Advent readings, Watch for the Light, for December 6.

Ross-Gotta focuses on the value of being virgin; her meaning probes way beyond biology. Rather she concentrates on the purity of our attitudes, on our relationship with Jesus, on our willingness to become untrammelled, stripped bare, and unlimited by our inadequacies. To be virgin is to be excruciatingly vulnerable.

I have read Watch for the Light every year since it was published, except, I ruefully confess, last year, and I’ve liberally underlined and scribbled in the margins of this particular piece, obviously one of my perennial favourites. This year I refrained from adding yet another layer of myself; I just absorbed as I read, unreflecting.

Then it hit me. Last Advent was my time of “recollection” as Ross-Gotta calls it. I had been raked over the coals for four weeks for no apparent reason. I had become numb, nearly bone-rattling senseless, until Christmas Eve when blinding light penetrated the shadow I had become.

Hearteningly, Ross-Gotta and I reach the same conclusion about the light that permeates the darkness, hers in thoughtfully developed depth, mine in one unprocessed, stunning moment: “The world would recollect itself and discover itself held in the womb of the Mother of God.” (Ross-Gotta)

As I finished reading the selection this year, I felt close to Mary. I felt close to a whole lot of people. I felt like last year’s miserere Advent was finally redeemed and I could view it with a virgin thankfulness.

It is well worth reading Ross-Gotta’s Advent reflection. To accompany it, I offer you a poem. On Christmas Eve last year, still wobbly from fever, I leaned on my husband’s arm at our live nativity scene. As I gazed hungrily at Mary and her baby, a simple, unexpected insight overwhelmed me. I felt compelled to scrabble it onto paper.

I struggled, writing and re-writing for weeks to put even the following words together. Then this year when I read afresh “To Be Virgin” by Loretta Ross-Gotta, I at last understood the significant depth of my Christmas Eve experience, as well as its necessary relationship to my rock-bottom Advent.

Here’s the poem:

The Baby Jesus
evaded me all Advent.
He covert, I confounded.
My normal December Happy Family
activities juddered.
There were days
I seemed to be wearing
someone else’s habits.
Uncertainly I rearranged threads;
I couldn’t find their sticking points.
Fever swept me away temporarily;
incapacitating, unsettling.
Miraculously
I hauled up on the shores of Christmas Eve,
where Mary shone larger than life
in flaming Syrian crimson:
wise, wounded, inviting.
Ah!
It is Mary who holds the baby –
our baby:
Emmanuel,
God-with-us.
Ann Morrissey
Christmas Eve, 2017
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About the author

a photograph of Ann Morrissey

Ann Morrissey

Ann Morrissey lives in Beech Grove, a Bruderhof in England, with her husband, Dave. They delight in the English countryside...

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  • Thank you Ann. Didn’t know you had been so poorly. And this is the first year for some time I haven’t been ill around Christmas and New Year. Happy 2019 to you and Dave. Love from both of us.

    Sue Prochak