I wrote about Thelma, my 100-year-old friend in West Virginia last year during Advent and again a few months ago. Thelma will celebrate her 101st birthday on December 28th. Yesterday we received a Christmas card and letter from Thelma. We have received a Christmas card and letter from her every year since leaving West Virginia in 1967. Her letter this year was a sad one.
Thelma’s daughter came to visit over Thanksgiving weekend and while there suffered a fatal heart attack. Thelma’s daughter was 66-years old and had no known health issues. Thelma wrote, “This will be a sad Christmas for us, but we pray that each of you will have a wonderful holiday season and that you remember the reason for our celebration.”
So often we think that everything is supposed to be perfect at Christmastime. I don’t know where that mistaken notion came from because it certainly doesn’t represent reality. The first Christmas had its sad moments—remember? “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.” Each time I read those words in Matthew’s gospel a great sadness comes over me, the same kind of sadness I feel as I see the innocent children fleeing the city of Aleppo. And who cannot feel a similar sadness when a 101-year-old mother loses her only daughter!
There has never been a Christmas without a Rachel, a Thelma, or someone, somewhere in the world, feeling a deep sadness, feeling a deep hurt. There has never been a perfect Christmas, or a Christmas where everything was rosy and bright. Do we, as Thelma writes, really “remember the reason for our celebration?” “Christ always seeks the straw of the most desolate cribs to make his Bethlehem,” writes Thomas Merton.