The Manger Is Empty

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A Christmas story.

My daughter wept on Christmas Eve. What should I say to the heart of my daughter? How should I comfort her? What should I tell her of tears, who has learned only their strength and perturbation, but knows no words for them?

Her name is Mary, truly. She is very young.

Therefore, she didn’t cry the older, bitter tears of disappointment. She hasn’t experienced the desolation of adults, who try so hard but find so little of spirit in the season, who cry unsatisfied, or merely for weariness.

Neither did she weep the tears of an oversold imagination, as the big-eyed children may. It wasn’t that she dreamed a present too beautiful to be real or expected my love to pay better than my purse. She’s greedy for my touch, is Mary, more than for my presents; and touching—Lord! I have much of that for Mary.

Nor was she sick on Christmas Eve. That were an easier pain for a father to console.

Nor was she hungry for any physical thing.

No, she was hungry for Odessa Williams, that old black lady—for her life. That’s why Mary cried. The child had come suddenly to the limits of the universe, and stood there, and had no other response for what she saw than tears, and then she wept into my breast, and I am her father. And should I be helpless before such tears? Or mute? Oh, what should I say to the heart of my daughter Mary?

This is what happened: It is the custom of our congregation to gather on the Sunday evening before Christmas—adults and youth and children, members of the choir particularly—to go out into the cold December night, and to carol the elderly. A common custom. Little elemental usually comes of it.

We bundle thick against the night wind. Our faces pinch—the white ones pink, the black ones (we are mostly black ones) pale. ...

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