Three is a magic number, they say. People talk about the Holy Trinity and three-legged barstools, but I think about the years when a couple has their first child. They are years of abundance, and though no part of life is without challenges, this time is one of the sweet things. It is a season of health and love and hot showers. We have one child, and we are grateful for him. We are also grateful for each other, for without our little family of three we would be alone in this world.
My son is the latest firstborn child in a long line of firstborn children. I am the fourth in that line, my mother the third. My parents talk reverently, fondly, of the years that we were a family of three. They were years of grit, excitement, adventure, joy. My babyhood constitutes the golden years of their life together.
We are talking about this because my dad is failing slowly. We don’t know how many years he has left, or how he will experience them. We only know that our family of three, later four and then five, is diminishing, and that every year there is less of him. These are years of scarcity.
When I was in college and Taylor Swift songs were popular, I learned maybe five songs on the guitar. This one had only four chords, and so I enthusiastically inflicted it on my family all summer long.
“Our song is a slammin’ screen door / Sneakin’ out late tapping on your window / when you’re on the phone and you talk real slow / cause it’s late and your mama don’t know / Our song is the way you laugh / the first date man I didn’t kiss him and I should have / And when I got home, before I said Amen / Asking God if he could play it again.”
I remember when my mother called to tell me that Dad was sick. “I keep thinking about that song you used to sing,” she told me. “Our song; it’s all those things we did together. I keep thinking, ‘Let’s play that again. Please, just… play it again’.”
It would be several more years before I would be able to start a family. Our baby boy came long after we first opened our hearts to him, and we regarded his birth with reverence and awe. His first Christmas came, and I took him to a beautiful church with stained glass windows to hear sacred, heavenly music. Our fellow concert-goers shot skeptical glances our way, concerned about our mobile baby, but to everyone’s surprise except mine, he was a delight that evening. An older gentleman congratulated us on our good-natured child.
I sat in the sanctuary with a soaring, aching, grateful heart, holding my long awaited-son. Opposite us was a stained glass window depicting Mary holding hers. “Ave Maria,” swelled the chorus, “gratia plena”.
Christmas changed for me that night.
Two thousand years ago, a mother held her baby while the man who loved her kept watch. There’s something magical, special, mystical about the number three. The triangle. The trinity. Three family. No one will ever play my family’s song again – when we are gone, no will remember it. There are countless families of three who have held a sacred watch, that are forgotten. No one plays their songs or says their names. Every year, though, we all join with the human race to play it again for that family. For her family.
Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus.
My faith in Jesus as a literal son of God and savior of humanity waxes and wanes with the seasons of my life. Christmas is a time of festivity and also of sorrow. I am not always able to appreciate the religious wonder of the season, but I am mother to a long-awaited son, and I am also somebody’s firstborn in the wilderness.
If Christmas is nothing more than a worldwide celebration of sacred hope and joy in someone’s little miracle, then gratia plena. Please, play it again.