Halfway through packing for their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Temple and its sacrifice, the covenant and its blood, Joseph is distracted by the keening of the child. He had never noticed before how like grief a baby’s cry could be – wailing for the womb, mourning the waters from which it was drawn out and adopted into the world. Half-turning, he would scoop up the infant and cradle him, soothe him from the pain to come; but his mother already has him in her arms, holding him to one breast, whispering secrets.
Halfway through the night, a shepherd shifts uneasily in sleep, dreaming of a terrifying light, a polyphony of voices, but it is only the sheep bleating. They, too, still watch the sky for the return of angels.
Halfway through their journey, the astronomers, looking for their own light, rail at the cloud cover and complain to their camels. They set up camp in the desert, closer than they think to the site of God’s deliverance.
Halfway through dinner, Herod belches and clutches his chest. Heartburn. For all the heat of its name, his blood runs cold each time he is reminded of his mortality. He is out of sorts, and he is afraid.
Halfway through a prayer, Anna pauses. She can hear Simeon greeting another young couple with his practised patter, putting them at ease with his restless eyes and excitement, as though every infant coming through these portals might be, at last, the Messiah. As she hears them murmuring by, gossiping under their breath about Simeon’s zealous optimism, for the first time in decades, Anna realizes that she is hungry.
Halfway through the prayer of confession, I stumble across the words, “We have not loved you with our whole heart.”
On the sixth day, halfway through Christmas, with the wholesomeness of God’s love lying in a manger and the heartlessness of Herod running riot in the streets; with God’s Incarnate One being prepared for his first wound, and his mother slowly healing, but her catching her heart in her mouth each time he sighs; on the sixth day, Joseph half-turns back, forgetting to pack up the bread he had picked up before the baby cried, his heart halfway to heaven and his spirit halfway to madness with the wonder of it all.
The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is an Episcopal priest, author, and poet, who serves as Rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Euclid, Ohio. She is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books, 2020), and blogs at over the water/rosalindhughes.com