Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel December 16, 2023

an Advent candle lit against a dark background
image via Pixabay

It was all going beautifully, until it wasn’t.

When has that ever not been the case?

I was handling things well, making my crafts and listening to silly books, working on my various writing projects, keeping it together. I inched the car out to the grocery store, trying the experiment of never going over 19 miles per hour, which is the fastest it’s safe to drive through LaBelle with all the dogs and children playing near the one -way streets anyway. It almost worked; the car only went into limp mode once. People were buying fancy things for Christmas and I was getting ordinary groceries to get us through the weekend.

On the way back I met Adrienne walking home from school. We drove the rest of the way home, slowly. She was chattering about the fun she’d had at school. I was praying the car didn’t break even worse, cursing the salesman who sold me a car with a rotten wiring harness and the swindler who claimed she could fix it. Cursing myself for signing the “as is” contract, just because a mechanic said it was a good car. Cursing myself for wasting money on a full tank of gas just before the car stopped working again.

We bantered about how to get Lady McFluff the guinea pig to open her presents, since a few had been sent for her as well as Adrienne.

I reminded her that we’d return to Sunday Mass attendance this weekend, if we could manage to get the car fixed Saturday. Gaudete Sunday is a good day to go back. I would actually like that, even with the trouble I’ve been having. Maybe we’d get to sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, my favorite hymn.

At home, where I feel safe most of the time now, we made dinner and went to bed. I promised we’d drive to look at Christmas lights again just as soon as we could get those sensors in the car, and if that didn’t happen before Christmas than soon afterwards. An ordinary night, more or less.

I went to bed, quietly listing the things we had to do. Don’t spend anything over the weekend, just in case the rent check gets to the landlord before you expect. Don’t forget to consolidate you student debt before the end of the year. Don’t forget to somehow pay the car insurance that never does anything but make it legal to drive. Somehow get Adrienne a pair of black khakis in case you find a way to get to Christmas Eve Mass. After all that, you can somehow get down to AutoZone and buy those sensors, before Christmas so we can have even a moment of happiness this season. When that happens, you can drive downtown in the  car and take a picture of a nutcracker so you feel happy and normal. After these holidays are over you can go back to looking for more writing jobs or other work so you can make ends meet and this will never happen again. Smile and feel normal. It’s Christmas. 

If the people who laugh at you and call you a grifter for being trapped with a misdiagnosed chronic illness with no conventional way to support yourself except for writing for tips and little 1099s here and there until you were almost forty could see you worrying, they’ll win. Don’t worry. 

If your estranged family who reads your writing to gloat at your failures and sometimes harasses you just to be nasty could see what a hard time you’re having, it would confirm every bad thing they’ve ever believed about you. Don’t have a hard time. 

If Jesus could hear how angry you are with him, he’d damn you to hell. Don’t be angry. 

If the Charismatics of Steubenville could hear you crying and know that you’re terrified God is hurting you on purpose for the thousandth time, they’d say this was proof you’re demonically oppressed. Don’t cry. 

Don’t cry, you stupid ninny. If you cry, they win. Don’t cry. 

And then I was sitting bolt upright with another panic attack.

Pulling that chipped and dirty Archangel Michael icon off of the headboard and hugging it for dear life.

Cringing from the Virgin Mary and begging her to go away, and then turning to her. Pretending she was standing by the bed, tentative, cautious, knowing I’d be even more afraid if she came too close.

“I want you to do what good you can for us,” I said, still cringing in spite of myself. “Not the ‘good’ I’ve been taught to expect. Not nice wholesome suffering so I can offer it up. Just whatever real good you can.”

I remembered that I also want to do what good I can. I have decided to be myself: the person I am whether I like it or not, and not the person I’m supposed to be. Not the codependent doormat who fights to save people, because I can’t save anyone, but the person who gets along with her neighbors and tries to help them when it’s possible. Not the plaster saint who fights through panic attacks to meet her “Sunday obligation” but the one who tries to pray in ways that don’t ruin her whole week, even if that means staying home. Not the Mary who would make my family accept me because they never will. Not the Mary who would placate my detractors because I don’t like them anyway. Just me.

I remembered that I’ve chosen to believe that God is not the exacting tyrant of rules and obligations, but Emmanuel, God-with-us, the God who suffers with us in the dark.

Somehow I fell asleep after that.

I woke up on a bright morning, all my muscles aching from the panic attack.

Downstairs the Christmas tree was bright and festive. The Nativity scene was still arranged expectantly inside the Advent wreath, waiting for Baby Jesus to appear. Two purple candles were burned respectably low. The pink Gaudete candle was untouched, the wick still white, ready to light as an act of faith that the dark time is almost over.

Rejoice, rejoice O Israel, to thee shall come Emmanuel! 

Maybe He’s already here.


Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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