Chances are you’ve recently chatted with somebody on the phone. You might have gotten up to get a cup of tea while you were on the line. Odds are even better that, within a few minutes of hanging up, you forgot about the call and the tea because you moved on to other things. You were not moved to tears at the word “Hello.” You felt no need to gasp out gratitude to God for being able to saunter over to the kettle for the tea.
Compare and contrast that mundane experience with this letter I got from a friend:
I talked to her last night about 1:30am your time. It was amazing! When I saw her that first night I didn’t know if I’d ever hear her voice again or see her move or anything. And she lifted her leg last night! Every little bit of return to normality is like Christmas.
My friend’s daughter, a vivacious young woman away at college in Pennsylvania, was injured in a fall that broke her back and caused her brain to swell so badly that they had to temporarily remove part of her skull. She has endured multiple surgeries, a tracheotomy, weeks of being unable to breathe on her own, speechless silence and even the inability to swallow — not to mention lots of plain old pain and nausea. On the night of the accident, there was no certainty she would survive at all.
Now, thanks be to God, she is busy texting her siblings, she is off the respirator, talking, even sitting for short periods. And her doctors are saying there is a very good chance she will walk again. There’s still a long, slow grind of rehab ahead, but she has come so far so fast that her doctors are astounded. As her father said, “Every little bit of return to normality is like Christmas.”
By that he means, and can only ultimately mean, that utterly normal things like saying “Hello” on the phone or walking across the room to get a cup of tea are things so charged with miraculous wonder that only our dullness blinds us to their import. All the special effects and laser blasts in all the Hollywood big-budget features in the world pale in comparison to the moment my friend’s daughter spoke the words “I love you” to her mom as she held vigil at her bedside. The day she takes her first step again, unaided, will be a day as miraculous as the day she was conceived.
My friend’s words capture the very heart and essence of what Advent and Christmas are all about. Adam and Eve and all of us were injured in a fall that broke us. We sit vigil at the bedside of the broken body and soul of man all through Advent (and indeed all through history), awaiting the divine Physician to come with power and heal our ruined race. Some people expected that when he came it would be with a spectacular display of special effects, a dazzling light show or some sort of conquering army in pomp and splendor.
Instead, when God sent his Messiah, he sent him to bless and hallow all the ordinary things, the small things, the normal things. The miracle was not that God had parted the heavens or the sea or slain an Egyptian host. It was that he was sitting on Mary’s lap, breathing quietly in his sleep. It was that he nursed well and slept through the night. It was that he could swallow and that he took his first step on his own while Mary and Joseph clapped for joy.
It was that, in a perfectly human voice, he spoke the words “I love you” — not only to his mother, but to the whole world.
Mark Shea is content editor of CatholicExchange.com.