Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year, but I had a difficult time getting in the spirit of the season this year. I figured it had something to do with not having any snow or because things had been busy at work and I had a cold, but then a few days ago I realized what had made this Christmas different from the previous twenty-nine.
The church season leading up to Christmas is called Advent, which means “coming” or “arrival,” with the celebration of Jesus’ birth being the culmination of season.
Advent is a season I’ve experienced true to its definition in the past, a time when I’ve been filled with excitement for all the traditions and family time along with the peace and hope of celebrating the birth of Jesus. All those things happened again this year and I enjoyed them as much as I could, but then it was January and life pretty much went back to normal.
Only a few days into the New Year something unexpected happened, I realized it was Advent. Not on the calendar or in the church, but because I was anticipating the birth of a child with more eagerness and excitement than any Christmas before.
I shared the story of my nephew a few days ago, but the short version is that my sister was pregnant and due on Christmas day three years ago but then became sick and went into labor much too early and the baby didn’t make it. Regardless of how many other details you know about what happened, you can imagine my sister and her husband (and all of us) have been through a lot. One thing that has remained obvious to me through everything is that my sister and her husband would be incredible parents and they really want a child, so it was one of the greatest surprises in the world (no exaggeration!) when they shared the incredible news earlier this year that they were expecting a child.
After all the struggles and pain they’d experienced, this seemed almost too good to be true, but after it settled in we anxiously (and a bit cautiously) began preparing for this miracle baby to arrive.
There were more doctor visits than with a normal pregnancy, and due to everything she had been through it was decided she would have a c-section at least a few weeks before her due date, but everything was going well and they were told to expect a healthy baby girl. That’s right, a girl, so for those of you keeping track at home this would be my third niece.
Fast forward to the middle of last week when it finally hit me that my sister was going to have a baby soon. All the emotions of the past mixed together with my love for this unborn girl and I knew that for the first time, despite all the excitement I had for Christmases in the past, I was fully experiencing Advent.
My family gathered at my sister and her husband’s house on Thursday night to have dinner and hang out. It was fun looking at the baby room and seeing all the little clothes and other gifts they had been accumulating in the living room, but it was also clear we were controlling our excitement. We were ready to celebrate emotionally but after all that had happened it wasn’t quite time to party yet.
When I went to bed on Thursday night I realized that to me it was Christmas Eve, so the next day would be Christmas, which was odd since it was actually January 5 (my mom’s birthday).
I set my alarm for much earlier than I would normally wake up so I could send my sister a text message, then slept a few more hours before going to work. I hadn’t scheduled anything that day to make sure I could go to the hospital whenever. There was a brief time of concern when I hadn’t heard anything in the mid-morning, but as soon as the good news came I ran to my car and drove to the hospital, getting to their room just after they had settled in. My mom was already there and my sister was sitting up in the bed, still a bit out of it from the surgery but obviously happy and very relieved. My brother-in-law was sitting near the window holding a little girl wrapped in blankets, it was his daughter, my niece…the child we had been waiting for.
I had spent a lot of time dreaming and praying for this moment to become a reality, but the emotions still snuck up on me. Tears had already pooled in the corners of my eyes when my brother-in-law placed that little girl in my arms, and as I held my niece my sister asked how I felt about being a godfather again. I can’t quite remember what I said, but am quite confident my mouth made a sound because it felt like a question that called for an answer with words and not just a nod of the head. It was a moment I will never forget, and I wouldn’t have thought it could get any better except that today I went back to the hospital and held her again. This time for much longer because there were fewer people around, and as I looked down at her tiny face while she quietly slept I realized that by some great miracle she was even cuter than the day before.
As if the story couldn’t be filled with any more meaning and beauty, they chose a name today; Natalia, which comes from the Italian natale and means “birthday.” It’s a word often used in specific reference to Christ’s birthday, and the Italian phrase for “Merry Christmas” is actually buon natale! So Natalia actually means “Christ’s birthday.” The quick explanation for why they chose the name is that my brother-in-law is Ethiopian where they celebrate Christmas on what is January 6th and 7th in America. So quite literally, Natalia was born on Christmas!
My experience of Advent may have been delayed this year, but when the child I had been anxiously awaiting was finally born it was the happiest and most joy-filled Christmas I could ever imagine, so even if it seems a few weeks late to you…
Merry Christmas, or I should say buon natale!