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!