IN DECEMBER when I leave for work the mornings are dark as the days slowly tick off to the 21st, the winter solstice. This year the month had been particularly dark in other ways.
My wife and I had been expecting our son for longer then we could remember. We had hoped soon to be on our way to Haiti to pick him up. But now, amid increasing unrest and political turmoil in Haiti, the 26-month adoption process had been delayed once again.
We had his pictures. We knew his name. How much longer would we have to wait for our promised child? Waiting in hope is hard when the future is uncertain. But what made this dark Advent more difficult was that today I would hold someone’s dead son in my arms.
Arriving at the hospital where I serve as chaplain, I headed off to the emergency department for morning rounds to get a feel for what transpired while I was peacefully asleep. There were the usual cases on the board: CP (chest pain), AP (abdominal pain), GSW (gunshot wound), OD (overdose), MVA (motor vehicle accident). And then there was Maria.* Maria was a 16-year-old Hispanic girl who had come in with VB (vaginal bleeding), discharge, and cramping.
Maria didn’t seem an unusual patient until I listened to her story. Maria was young, poor, and alone. Shocked by the unplanned pregnancy, she’d gone to get an abortion. But the abortion had gone terribly wrong. Apparently the clinician had begun the procedure, but when he found that Maria was further along then he’d thought, he demanded more money. Maria didn’t have any more money. So he stopped the procedure and sent her home. After a week of cramping, Maria came to the hospital. An ultrasound revealed her baby was dead.
I went to visit Maria in labor and delivery. I gently knocked on the door and entered the room. It was dark. The curtains were drawn. Maria was alone. I sat quietly at her bedside. “Hola, Maria. Dios te bendiga” (Hi, Maria. God bless you), I said.
“My name is Dirk,” I continued in Spanish. “I’m the chaplain here in the hospital.” Maria had a wretched look of sadness on her face. “I can’t imagine how you might be feeling,” I said. She stared straight ahead, hugging her bed covers. “I want you to know I’m here for you.”
Maria remained quiet. We sat in awkward silence. It was as if she could not speak. All her thoughts and emotions were knotted up in her heart. We sat together for what seemed a long time. Slowly Maria’s eyes welled with tears. Suddenly she blurted out, “I just didn’t know what to do! Will God ever forgive me?” I looked Maria in the eyes. Now we were both crying. “Yes,” I whispered. “God can and he does forgive you.”
Not long after the nurse started the IV with labor-inducing drugs, Maria delivered her dead baby boy. Could I say some prayers and offer a blessing? she asked.
Was there anything to say? What could I say? “Yes, of course,” I said quietly. “Have you thought of a name?” In all the confusion Maria hadn’t thought of one. “Well, what would his father have wanted to call him?”
“Jesús!” Maria replied almost immediately. “He would have wanted to call him Jesús.”
“That’s a good name,” I said. “It means ‘Savior’ or ‘God will help,’ and we will pray for God’s saving grace for you and for God to receive little Jesús into his arms.”
We had a short, quiet bedside service—just me, Maria, God, and the angels. “‘Let the little children come to me,’” I read, “‘and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ . . . And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:14, 16).
Then Maria held her newly birthed baby in her arms. I placed my finger on Jesús’ tiny, fragile body, and we said some prayers and blessings together. It was hard to know what jumbled thoughts and feelings Maria experienced in that moment, but I could tell the Holy Spirit was moving in her heart. Somehow, through all the pain and confusion, she had found favor with God and knew God’s grace in a very deep way.
After some time I said to Maria, “You know, of course, that God gave his Son the name Jesus. Do you know what God said about his Son?”
“No,” said Maria.
“Let me read it. I think God speaks these words to you too. This is what God says about Jesus: “Look well at my handpicked servant; I love him so much, take such delight in him. I’ve placed my Spirit on him; he’ll decree justice to the nations. But he won’t yell, won’t raise his voice; there’ll be no commotion in the streets. He won’t walk over anyone’s feelings, won’t push you into a corner. Before you know it, his justice will triumph; the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers” (Matt. 12:18-21, The Message).
“I believe that Jesus treats you gently,” I said. “He will not turn you away, no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done.” Maria quietly nodded, her lips tightly pressed together. She held her son as if wanting to express a new-found hope, yet fighting back tears of sadness. The life and death of little Jesús would change her forever. Jesús was her peace child pointing to her Savior, Jesus.
Maria’s story testifies that Christ remains present in our broken world. He does not come yelling in the streets. He comes gently by the Spirit to the quiet, dark places to bring peace as much unnoticed as he did that first Christmas night. The flickering faith of a hurt-filled heart he will not snuff out (see Isa. 42:3). While we are weak, God remains strong to take our grief, confusion, pain, and shame. “Surely he has born our griefs, and carried our sorrows. . . . He was wounded for our transgressions” (Isa. 53:4-5, KJV).
My story of waiting for a son and Maria’s loss of one intersected that day. We both hurt because things weren’t the way we longed for them to be. We were hoping for so much more. We wanted shalom (peace).
The Christmas angels have a message for us: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. . . . A Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in. n
* Some details of this story have been changed to respect patient confidentiality.