Everything was going so well on Christmas Eve until Mary and Joseph reached the step at the top of the aisle. These two ten-year-old children had been chosen to play the part of Mary and Joseph and place the baby Jesus in the crib before Midnight Mass. Around them the church was beautifully decorated and filled to capacity on this holy night. The congregation was in perfect harmony with the choir as the procession moved down the centre aisle of the church.
Mary, so wrapt in concentration of the treasure she carried in her arms, failed to negotiate the step and landed on all fours. Baby Jesus lost an arm in the mishap and also suffered severe head injuries. Joseph gathered up the severed arm from the polished floor. Mary dusted herself down and the procession continued.
When they arrived at the crib, Fr. Tony realized what had happened and was very angry. All the careful planning and organization of the previous month had been in vain, he thought. He turned to Joseph and Mary and said: “Look at what you’ve done.” Joseph, however, who in Scripture was a man of few words, replied: “But Father, you told us it was the year of the handicapped!”
Fr. Tony failed to appreciate the humor of the comment and even though the whole ceremony had been very carefully presented he was not satisfied.
When the congregation dispersed, Fr. Tony went to the presbytery to get his first-aid kit. He had occasion to use it almost every day but tonight would be different. He had the church all to himself and proceeded to replace the severed arm on the baby Jesus. He was satisfied with the operation and went on to dress the head injuries. Again, he was pleased with his effort. He thought about how he was so disappointed with this night. Christmas, he had decided earlier, would be an excellent time to get things moving in his new parish. The people had responded wonderfully. Every evening a meeting of some kind or another had been held in the local community centre by the various groups and committees. There were readers, the choir, Eucharistic Ministers and floral decoration groups. Fr. Tony himself had taken responsibility for the altar boys and girls.
As he replaced the wounded baby Jesus in the crib he felt relaxed and in the mood to say a prayer. Now, he could so easily identify with the baby in the crib - held together with elastoplast and so different from the perfect shiny image used in the practices during the previous week.
Fr. Tony realized that here was someone who understood the meaning of pain and suffering. Someone with whom he could share his own pain, especially the pain of failing to present a liturgical celebration that was perfect. The peace of Christmas then began to permeate his whole being. Later, he turned off the lights, left the church and retired to the presbytery.
On Christmas morning the arrived for Mass. Big, strong, fearless men arrived, but men who had been made redundant. Men, too, whose marriages had broken down and whose hopes for a happy family life had been shattered. They found a Savior who understood where they had come from. The women too, seeing a patched-up Christ, wondered if they should be so terribly disappointed when their own children failed to be less than perfect.
The youth, amused at first, began to realize that an injured Christ touched their sympathy and that maybe there were times when their own friends had need of sympathy and encouragement. The children could see immediately that the child was broken and took delight in the thought that they too did not have to excel in anything.
As for the toddlers, they hoped that baby Jesus didn’t have a headache. One little three-year-old offered to go home for a baby Anadin, if necessary.
When Christmas was over, Fr. Tony wondered whether
they should put away the crib for another year or not. He thanked God
for the blessing that at first he thought had been just an accident.