I love the Christmas season.
I love decorating the tree with the quirky ornaments our kids made years ago, and I love the fond or funny memories they evoke. I love gathering with friends and family, and I love the food. All the food.
I love selecting meaningful gifts, singing carols at the piano, the spicy warmth of wassail on the stove, and snuggling in front of a cozy fire.
Twinkle lights make me happy.
And yet, as much as I truly love all these things, I also tend to stress out when the holiday season rolls around. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to do all the things I should do. I mean, I really should design, print, address, and mail the perfect Christmas card to all five hundred of my closest friends, right? And I should bake homemade goodies for public servants, local government officials, and all my neighbors, and deliver them while they’re still warm. I should attend every holiday concert, event, and/or party, ready to be inspired, moved, and/or entertained as befits the occasion.
My gifts should all be wrapped according to a particular theme with fancy hand-made bows. My house should be spotless, and the decorations should look like a page in a Pottery Barn catalog. And my dog should be curled up in front of the fireplace, like a picturesque punctuation mark on all this perfection.
When the kids and grandkids show up, I should not only have a beautifully bedecked, cinnamon-scented house full of tasty holiday treats and dazzling packages, I should look like I just returned from a week at a spa resort — relaxed, smiling, festively clothed, and in my right mind.
This is how I imagine it should be. But life rarely imitates the scenes we see in glossy catalogs or Hallmark movies, and I know that all too well. I’ve lost count of how many Christmases our extended family has gathered only to pass a nasty virus instead of pumpkin pie.
The kids are overstimulated, tired, and whiny. The turkey is overcooked and dry. Someone gave the dog cranberry salad, and now she’s throwing up on the rug.
Life is always at least a little messy. It gets messier when the house is full of bodies, schedules are maxed out, and no one is getting enough rest. And it feels even messier than it is when our expectations are unrealistic and our hopes are set on creating the perfect holiday experience for our very imperfect selves, friends, and relations.
But right about the time disappointment presses its ugly nose against the frosty windowpanes, I remember.
The messiness of life is the point of Christmas. If we’d had our act together, Jesus wouldn’t have come as a baby born in Bethlehem. He wouldn’t have embraced messy from the get-go — being born to a poor virgin in a dirty stable, his birth announced to and heralded by shepherds (whose character was considered so shady, their testimony wasn’t permissible in court), his life threatened by a corrupt and paranoid king, and his parents forced to flee to Egypt as refugees with their tiny child.
Jesus’ entire public ministry consisted of living into our messy. He tasted poverty instead of privilege, weariness instead of wealth. He gave instead of receiving. He served instead of being served. He healed the sick, raised the dead, gave freedom to captives, sight to the blind, and dancing to the lame. And He laid down His life instead of refusing the cup of God’s wrath because that’s exactly what He came to do.
His coming was the dawn of redeeming grace, the fulfillment of every Messianic promise, the guarantee of our sure salvation.
We’ve been rescued from captivity to sin and self, we’ve also been rescued from perfectionism and the tyranny of all our “shoulds.”
Christmas is about presence. Immanuel inviting us to be fully present with Him, our beloveds, and the aching weary ones He came to save. O, come, let us gather around this throne of grace and adore Him.
And the twinkle lights wink merry like they knew this is where we would land all along.
No wonder they make me happy.
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