We want it to be perfect, you know. Christmas, I mean.
We really do. Something deep within us wants the lights and the trees, the music and the gifts, the family gatherings and candle-lit worship—all of it—to be Christmas card perfect.
Do I claim to be an exception? No, I do not. Truth be told, though, it’s not so much that I hope each new Christmas will be more beautiful than the last, I just want to do a better job each year enjoying the beauty and joy, savoring each moment. Every year it seems to come more quickly (which is fine with me), but it also seems to be over more quickly (which is decidedly not fine with me). Maybe lurking in my brain somewhere really is that idea of the “perfect” Christmas.
Honestly, I’ve felt this year that the Yuletide train left the station without me, that I was running behind it, trying to catch up. Oh, the church is decorated, warm and beautiful. And I managed to get some of the lights up at the house. But “busy-ness” hindered us in getting the tree and decorations up at home as soon as we wished. My family, particularly the grandkids, think I’m the “king of Christmas” (I’m not, of course; there’s only One), so one of my two seven-year-old grandsons expressed amazement that I was a tardy decorator this year. Oh, the shame of it!
But I’m getting there. I’m halfway through my annual re-reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Old Scrooge is now in the presence of the “Ghost of Christmas Present,” my favorite of the spectres. Oh, that one knows how to laugh a fruity laugh! I try not to press Dickens’ tale too far theologically; I just take it as the sweet story it is. I love it! And it always ends so well!
I admit that, if I’m in the right mood, I can even deal with an occasional Hallmark Christmas movie and willingly “suspend my disbelief.” For a while. The lead couples are always “top of the wedding cake” impressive. But it’s always unwise to do any research into actors’ actual ages, etc. Obviously, the female lead is strikingly beautiful, whether or not she’s actually closer to menopause than a real nativity event. And—not a sexist bone in my body—I hasten to say that the ultra-handsome guy—stubble required—will probably also still be getting soap opera and clothing commercial calls for a good while. The stars are decorative, for sure. But if I catch myself wondering if their characters will still be trying to “find themselves” when they’re in nursing homes, the mood is broken. (Though finding themselves will be easier there. Name cards on the room doors.) Those movies go down better if you don’t push reality too hard.
Oh, and the old Christmas movies? I love them, for sure!
But I suspect that one of the reasons we’re drawn to Christmas movies, the not-so-good ones and the great ones, is, again, that we’re looking for the perfect Christmas, even though we know we’ll never find it here.
No, we won’t, but nonetheless we do find lots of beauty and wonder, light and hope, special blessing, in this season. Why shouldn’t we thank God for it and ask him to help us recognize it and fill up, more and more, on his genuine joy? Oh, we should!
But here’s the snake hiding in the tree. Suffering and pain and tragedy know no season, take no breaks, respect no persons, and seem so very much worse, so much darker, during this time we so want to be bathed in life-affirming light that fully eclipses darkness, admitting no trespassing tragedy.
We never like death, or disease, or bitter disappointment. But how much more despicable and out of place they seem at Christmas.
We never like to hear of “natural” disasters, but how much more “unnatural” and horrible they seem right now.
Of course, we feel that way. Why wouldn’t we? But wait!
Yes, wait, indeed. This season has much to do with waiting. One of the reasons many Christians have for centuries found the observance of Advent (look it up) before Christmas to be a blessing, is that it helps us to “wait” purposefully and pray that God will “prepare the way” into our hearts anew as we celebrate Christ’s coming.
The world waited so long for the Birth. And we await with longing, and often with tears, his Second Coming and the time when all wrongs will be made right, all tears washed away.
So, again this Christmas, we ask him now to come into our hearts anew. And to help us live each day in expectation, even as we wait.
The first Christmas fills us with hope. But even it was not “perfect.” I figure there had to be some manure in the stable. And I know there was a despicable despot in charge with murder being born in his black heart.
But Christ had come! And he would live and teach and die—and live! And now we wait, thanking God for “the light that shines in the darkness,” knowing that the darkness will never “overcome it.”
For God’s people, something far better than a perfect Christmas is coming.
Dear Lord, thank you for coming! Help us to wait in hope for your coming again, and may our hearts be the Bethlehems into which you’re born each day.