“While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7 NRSV)
One of the true signs, at least in our home, that Christmas is just around the corner is that we get mail. I mean actual mail. Not bills, not notices we are eligible for a “grand Prize” or a flier from local businesses. but actual, honest to goodness mail. Someone actually sits down writes something, puts it in in an envelope and mails it to us.
Yes, tis the season of the Christmas card. With the advent of the internet and social media, we get less of them than we used to, but they still come. A trickle at first, then a slow increase as we get closer to Christmas. And we treasure them all. We , as I am sure you do, display them somewhere in our home. It’s nice to know someone thought of you and to be able to catch up on a more personal level.
Catching up. Because often in that Christmas card is a “year-end” letter catching you up on all that has happened to the family. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I have been blessed with being associated with some of the most perfect people on the face tf the earth. Some times the card is a photograph of the family. And they are all perfect. Good looking. Perfect smiles. Perfect pets sitting and behaving. Often they are on a beach, all dressed alike barefoot and smiling. Because nothing says Christmas than to say” Not only is my family perfect and good looking, but we take vacations you could never afford”.
The letters themselves are a wonder. Everyone is promoted. The two-year old was just invited to join Mensa, but is weighing her options. The junior is being scouted by several Ivy League schools and they don’t even play sports. They are just that wonderful. Oh there will be times of trial in those letters, but always with a happy ending showing strength in adversity and how they overcame problems in a perfect manner.
You never get a card of the family with mom’s hair a mess, the baby just spilled milk down Dad’s shirt as the five year old points to the cat that’s cleaning itself. We never see a letter that says, Bob failed to meet his quota for the third time, because frankly, he mentally checked out of his job years ago. The baby learned a new word when Mommy dropped a bowl on her foot, and now won’t stop singing it at the top of her lungs. Our teenager has decided to wear the same clothes to school every single day of the school year and no one know why. We never get that letter, but if we do, I’m putting it up on the mantle first.
And please understand, I’m not pointing fingers. I’m guilty of the same thing. We all want to look our best. We all would rather look wonderful and talk about the small success instead of the daily imperfections. We all want to note that one great day and ignore the really weird days most of us have. We do it in Christmas cards, we do it Sunday at church always wanting to look and act our best.
I understand it, and am even guilty of it. But I wonder if it doesn’t also reflect an unhealthy obsession with perfection. We seem satisfied with a veneer of perfection, even if it’s not who we are deep down. We want to measure up. We want to keep up. We want to be as perfect, or maybe even a little more so, than everyone around us. We fear not being accepted. We fear rejection. We fear everyone seeing themselves that our lives really are. There not bad lives at all. Just imperfect and messy.
To me this is what makes the birthplace of Jesus so important. The Son of God, the perfect lamb of God enters the world in the messiest way in the messiest place possible. Let’s face it, childbirth is a messy affair. And a stable full of animals jockeying for position is about as messy as it gets. Jesus, the God of all eternity, is put into an unsanitary manger to sleep. Messy. As are the lives and futures of Joseph and Mary. Earthly parents to the Son of God. Bearers of a virgin birth that only led to gossip and whispers behind their back. It’s hard to imagine Jesus coming into a messier situation.
But isn’t that the point? The Incarnation reminds us that Jesus didn’t come only for the perfect. He came for those of us who have incredibly messy lives. Jesus doesn’t ask us to be perfect before we come to Him. He loves us not only in spite of the messes of our lives, but in the middle of them. Jesus isn’t about being present in those small perfect moments of life. He is about being present when you burn the toast, double park and mess up that report at work. He is there in the middle of the bad day, when your temper is shorter than it should be with your loved ones. He is there, loving you when you are in your old sweats as much as when you are dressed to the nines to go to church.
Look, life is messy. For everyone. Christmas reminds us Jesus loves us in the middle of the messiness of life. Even when we make the mess, He loves us. So relax a little this year. Instead of trying to show how perfect your life is, spend sometime looking for Jesus in the middle of the mess. For it is there, knowing and receiving His love that you find true perfection.
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><