The second Noel had to have been one of the greatest letdowns in the history of Christmas. A classic sophomore flop. A year prior, infant Jesus came out swinging and screaming to angel choirs and after-hours, maternity ward visits by complete strangers. Each carried a story surrounded in mystery and miracle. Some rumored of a new star appearing in the east, a cosmic conception mirroring the one in Bethlehem. Legends grew of a mute uncle; prophesies uttered by an old man hanging onto the last hours of his life only for this–for one glimpse of this child. Even the infant’s cousin reportedly danced a kind of in utero, Gangnam Style at the sound Mary’s voice. Gifts of gold and glittered skies, heaven and earth colliding, what would become of this child, Jesus? A year later where they might have hoped to gather with family and friends at home in Bethlehem around a birthday cake, laughing hysterically with tears streaming down their faces at baby Jesus huffing and puffing at a single, stubborn candle, they found themselves in exile. In Egypt. Alone at a cheap, border town motel that didn’t fair much better than the barn they found themselves in exactly one year prior.
This wasn’t the script that Mary and Joseph expected. There would be no miracles this Christmas. This year they were blowing long, slow breaths over steamy cups of ramen, sombered by departed dreams of being home for the holidays, hiding out as refugees because their child was considered a political threat. Only in the neurosis of a deranged king’s mind could an infant be considered a threat. That diagnosis might have changed for me this past year.
The birth of our second son, Perkins, late last year was too, awash in miracle. According to all medical prognoses, Perkins was going to be born without the nerve bundle that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. It would likely mean learning disabilities, coordination problems, possibly seizures. Regardless of the severity of the problems, our lives were going to change. I had no angelic visitations nor prophetic confirmations, but something inside me was telling me that God was about to do something out of the ordinary, that the governing rules of reality were going to be bent and God was going to heal our baby. God did just that. The next few weeks, stories emerged of mystery and miracle, near strangers praying specifically for our baby with little doubt God would heal, a Christmas gathered with family and friends permeated with the aroma of Immanuel–God was truly with us.
And then came exile. It wasn’t a sudden flight in the night, but an unexpected one that set its pace over several, sleep-deprived nights. We weren’t prepared for what two kids would do to us. This wasn’t the script we’d expected. Emily and I were frustrated. Frustrated with each other, frustrated with Perkins being back in the hospital, angry at sleep patterns, angry because there were no sleep patterns. It was then we recognized that this baby was more than a miracle. It was a threat. Our exile wasn’t one that impinged upon us by outside forces. I didn’t sweep my wife and children away heroically like our silent, supporting actor, Joseph. Our baby was a threat to me. Herod was within me. Perkins was a threat to my position of having a wife who not only loved me, but liked to be with me. He dethroned me and changed the dynamic of the relationship that Emily and I had. I used to be someone who was wanted. Now, I got the leftovers. So there we were slurping up ramen, frustrated, feeling separated, isolated, utterly alone. Parenting in exile.
Little by little, Herod died. We learned how to take just a moment to look at each other every morning as husband and wife, not just as father and mother. We learned that we didn’t have to compete for the most dismal titles like ‘the one who got less sleep’ or ‘the one who stuffs more diapers’ in order to lord them over one other. And slowly, we came out of Egypt. We shook off the fog of exile, we came out of hiding and into the light.
And now this Christmas, we’re settling into Nazareth. We’re settling into the ordinary and finding we like ordinary even more than the miraculous. Perkins toddles forward, wings wide, and we tumble down together in laughter. The second Noel.