Merry Imperfect Christmas (take 2)

This morning at Columbia Bible College’s final chapel service of the semester I was given the opportunity to share a little bit, taking inspiration from a Christmas blog I wrote last year called Merry Imperfect Christmas. So this is a re-visitation of a concept that does, perhaps, need to be revisited. The permissions at the end were used as our benediction.
"Tangled Light" by Tom Cochrane, flickr creative commons

“Tangled Light” by Tom Cochrane, flickr creative commons

I hate watching TV at this time of year.

Too many perfect families (mom, dad, 2 kids, a dog) gathered around a perfect table… or in front of a perfect tree… finding each other the perfect gifts… lighting up with the prefect reactions….

And if anything does go wrong it goes adorably wrong. So the dog knocks over the Christmas tree, and everyone laughs and laughs (while looking at each other creepily)—and no one actually has to go over and clean up the mess. No one throws the dog outside and slams the door unnecessarily loudly or swears when they step on a broken ornament.

So we turn off the commercials and we head out to find that perfect gift, we buy all the perfect decorations, we try to perfect-up our families a little…

But it never really works, does it. We never get that “Christmas card” Christmas. Even if we do enjoy Christmas (and I do!), the warm fuzzies never quite live up to expectation.

Instead, we’re faced with reality: exams; papers to mark; families that are broken, falling apart, or simply not very perfect; wallets that aren’t quite as thick as they need to be to buy those perfect gifts; trips home that somehow never achieve that peace and rest we crave; Christmas pageants that involve bowling balls thundering across the stage of the church (sorry… inside Columbia Bible College joke).

But here’s the thing. We present these pageants—kids in bathrobes with tea towels on their heads, pillow-stuffed Marys, adorably grumpy inn-keepers—and, much as I love those pageants, we’re glossing over reality just like Christmas commercials do. We’re striving for our own version of perfection.

I guarantee you that no one sang the gentle strains of Silent Night as Mary sweated and strained in childbirth. And she did not receive into her arms a clean, contented, sleeping child. What baby sleeps through the birth canal? From what I’ve heard, they ALL come out crying.

And the stable—most likely a cave—would not have been as warmly and cozily straw-lined as we imagine. And there would have been poop. A LOT of poop.

And Mary was young. And her pregnancy made people stare and whisper and shun her.

This. THIS is how a king—no THE KING enters the world. Not in the perfection of a palace, with servants to wait on him and perfumed water to wash the indignity of birth-goo from his skin.

Not our God.

With noise and mess and stink—he entered our world. Screaming his little heart out. He entered our world.

And still he enters our mess and our noise. He enters our exams and the stacks of papers we have to mark. He enters our screwed-up families and our empty wallets.

Every year, quietly, without fanfare, without twinkle lights, tinsel, or gift wrap—he enters our imperfect Christmas.

He enters our imperfection and makes it his own. Takes it upon himself. And gives us instead his deeper, wider, higher vision of perfection.

“From our fears and sins release us. Let us find our rest in Thee…..”

 

So… let me give you permission for a few things:

This Christmas, you have permission to be tired sometimes, and not up for visiting with every relative and friend on the face of the planet.

You have permission to NOT buy the “perfect” gift for every family member and friend. Give coupon books of hugs. Make people use them.

You have permission to NOT look at Pinterest—not once. Not even a tiny peak to see what type of Christmas scent should be bubbling away on your stove. Nobody wants to smell your orange peels, cranberry, and vanilla anyway. In fact, forget about Facebook and Instagram too. No one is having the type of Christmas they say they are on social media. Not even you. Put it away.

You have permission to spend time with people rather than spend time getting things right. Go for walks. Let people help, rather than feeling like you have to pull everything together yourself. Some of my best memories involve visiting over a sink full of dirty dishes.

You have permission to hide away when you need to. Re-read a favourite book. Take a bath. Dig out some old music and re-enjoy it. Lock your door for an hour or two.

This Christmas, you have permission to NOT exude “Christmas Spirit.” What on earth IS that, anyway? Instead, pay attention to the Spirit. Notice the moments in which the kingdom of God breaks in—they will be small—and they will not look like our version of perfect.

This Christmas, you have permission to not be perfect. Or to have a perfect Christmas. Find a quiet space. Light a candle. And take time to read again the story of the God-baby. Who came to earth in dirt, and pain, and noise. Close your eyes and give Christ permission to enter the imperfection—to enter your mess and teach you a new way of being fully human.

Have yourself a merry, imperfect Christmas!

Merry Imperfect Christmas!

Watching TV the other night, I was struck once again by the number of companies urging me to have a perfect Christmas. Every year we are bombarded. Get the perfect gift. Make your house perfectly clean. Get the perfect lights, the perfect tree, the perfect tinsel. Cook the perfect turkey. Set the perfect table. Have the perfect family. BE PERFECT.

No.

Nuh-uh.

Not this year.

This Christmas I’ve been given the power (by the powers that be) to grant you a few permissions:

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Andrew and Stacey’s Wonky Christmas Tree, 2011

This Christmas, you have permission to grab a crappy tree from the bush because that’s all you have time to find. Or to grab the first tree leaning outside your local grocery store, without looking for the BEST one. Put some home-made kids’ ornaments on it and call it a day. Make some hot chocolate and sit and admire the imperfection together.

This Christmas, you have permission to leave the dirt and dog hair on your floor for another day. Go out for a moonlit ski or snowshoe instead. There’s dog hair and dirt out there, but nobody seems to mind. Why should your house be any different?

This Christmas, your kids are allowed to yell and be crazy and get dirty. Because kids are kids. Run around with them for a bit. Push them down a hill. Instead of cleaning your bathroom, make a few snow angels and some snow polar-bears OR a snow polar-angel-bear! Instead of washing your dishes, make two forts and pelt each other with snowballs. Let the kids stay up late. Let them help. When people look at you with raised eyebrows because your kids are over-tired and a little ill-behaved and your house is a mess, just tell them it’s my fault. Pick ONE thing to do in a day and throw away that list of “perfect family Christmas memories.” Don’t look at Pinterest.

This Christmas, you have permission to NOT make three million cookies. Just a tub or two will do. Unless you like making cookies. Then make five million and give some to the neighbours.

This Christmas, your table can be decorated with a few candles and some branches from the yard. Or not at all. And your turkey does not have to be perfectly browned and moist.  Just don’t’ give anyone salmonella poisoning. Maybe have a wiener roast instead. Let people help you in the kitchen. Accept all offers to wash dishes. Let people bring food. Spend more time visiting and less time slaving. Cook with wine so you can have a glass. Sometimes soup from a can or pasta from a box is the only way to go. You can drink wine with that.

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Snowy Christmas Walk (a.k.a. Sacred Moment)

This Christmas, you do not have to exude “Christmas Spirit.” What on earth IS that, anyway? Instead, pay attention to the Spirit. Notice the moments in which the kingdom of God breaks in – they will be small. The joy of a child going off-script during a Christmas play. A single line from a well-worn Christmas carol that suddenly sounds new, and fresh, and scary-in-a-good-way. The sight of your breath rising in front of you as you tromp through snow-covered fields with your dog. The shouts of children as they play outside, their snow-suit-shrouded forms ungainly, and their mittens-on-strings flopping at their sides. A quiet moment to yourself, re-reading the story of Christ’s incarnation by candle-light, tree-light – opening yourself again to the hush of amazement.

And, if you are a worship leader, you have permission NOT to plan the perfect Christmas service, or the perfect Christmas program, or the perfect Christmas banquet. Give jobs to children. Let them screw those jobs up. Allow a few sour chords to make the rest sound sweeter. Practice, but not extensively. Keep it simple. Just tell the story. But tell it in a way that reveals its imperfections. Tell people about the poop in the stable. Tell people about the smells and the sounds. Tell people that Mary was young, and that her pregnancy made her look disreputable. Tell people that Joseph wanted to abandon her. Tell people again that, to God, KING looks different. No gold. No power. No throne. Just a baby in a barn.

You see, all the perfection we are supposed to achieve at this time of year – all of that work – takes something from us. It takes away Christmas.

That first year there was no perfectly browned turkey, no perfect tree, no beautifully decorated home, no hushed angelic children’s faces gathered around a perfectly lovely crib. There was mess, and noise, and smelliness, and discomfort. Dirt and a fair bit of chaos. A crying baby. That is the standard.

So this year – maybe let things slide a little. I’m going to.

Have a merry imperfect Christmas!