I don't know about you, but I have all kinds of crazy expectations for a "perfect" Christmas. On a perfect Christmas, every member of my family should be in a good mood. Heck, they should be positively sweet and charming. I should never have a case of the "Christmas grouchies." I should never have to deal with family conflicts. I should give and receive the perfect presents. I should do endless amounts of baking and supply not only family and friends but picturesque, perfect culinary creations, but I should also give them to those who are alone. I should have gorgeous buffet, worthy of magazine photography, on Christmas morning .
But growing up, I experienced a lot of conflict over the holidays. There was a lot of pain. It got to where I began to dread the holidays. (And sometimes I still have carry-over feelings: why even get excited for Christmas when something awful will happen?) Two years ago, my dad went into Hospice over the holidays (and, believe me, that is a phone call you don't want to get any time of the year).
None of us want to experience anything less than perfection at the Holidays. We don't want the death of a loved one. We don't want depression. We don't want a divorce. We don't want a family feud. We don't want the diagnosis of a serious illness. It breaks our hearts. Can't just this one season of the year be magical?
We see the shiny images of people on TV advertisements, smiling, laying out perfect table spreads, kissing, getting engaged, having perfect families, having perfectly dressed children...and it just rings false. But we dare not mention our private pain to others. Who wants to be the downer at the party when asked if we are having a good Christmas? Who wants to answer, "No, I'm not. My heart is breaking this year."
Well, there is one family at the very first Christmas that definitely did not have a perfect day: Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus. Let's face it, this group of peasants would have felt out-of-place at the lavish galas held in honor of Christmas these days. Imagine traveling for several days on a donkey while nine months pregnant. Imagine people whispering that you were unfaithful to your fiance--or perhaps that both of you had "gotten together" out of wedlock. Imagine feeling that everything was going wrong; just when you wanted to be home in your own bed, Caesar calls for a census! And the birthplace of this Little One who changed the world forever?--A barn. His first bed?--A feed trough, a manger. In this of all places, Mary and Joseph brought the Greatest Being to ever take on flesh and blood into the world. To be born amongst the squalor of animals, to be feet away from their droppings, to have nobody have enough room for you lie inside on your first night on earth...this is who Jesus is.
We forget this. We forget that the very reason Jesus came was that our world is so very imperfect. We forget their our illnesses and deaths and conflicts and inner pain are the very reason He left the beauty of heaven to become mortal, to become one of us. He didn't have to do it...unless you take into account that God is Love. And Love cannot help but pour itself out for the other.
Jesus came because we are so broken and we need to be healed. He came because sin so infects our soul that we needed to be freed. The only way to do this was to go to the cross for us. Yes, that sweet baby lying in the manger had one objective in mind: To grow only about as old as I am today, and then to die on the cross, taking all the evil and brokenness and sin of the whole world on His shoulders so that you and I could be freed.
If you ever worry that you are not having a perfect Christmas, if you ever worry that you are shut out from the perfect celebration you think everyone else is having (they're not!), remind yourself that the very first Christmas was very imperfect too. It's not about having the perfect celebration. Yes, we celebrate in the grandest way we can, because we celebrate to honor the King who has done so much for us. But as we celebrate, we must never forget that the meaning of this word, Incarnation (God becoming human for us) is that Jesus has sunk so deep down into our flesh and bone that our brokenness has become His, and His new life has become ours. The new life He gives is as fresh and filled with hope as the first cry of a brand new baby. Suddenly, the future looks bright...alive...filled with possibility. For we do not just have hope for this life, but also hope for the life to come.
I give thanks that Jesus understands my brokenness. That He has entered fully into it. That He is compassionate and full of mercy towards me, and towards you.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, intrigued by the concept of faith from the outside, never having experienced it from the inside, then feel this Jesus moving in your heart today. Jesus said in John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." So, if you feel that tug in your heart, that gift of faith, you can know that it is from God. Romans 10 says, "if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (verse 9). Verse 13 promises, "'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'"
What a gift! What a promise! He came for you...In your unemployment. In your marital struggles. In your depression. In your illness. In your loss of a loved one. In your struggle with the wrong things in your heart. He came for you. Thanks be to God!