So did this Christmas just sneak up on anyone else? It’s not just me? Man alive this year went by fast. And people tell me as we get older that time just seems to go faster, so maybe that would explain it. Except it doesn’t because I don’t ever age, time stands still around this face. At least that is what I tell myself in the mirror every morning…
And whose genius idea was it to make school go all the way until the weekend before Christmas? Whoever it was, they sure didn’t have pastors with school aged kids in mind. And they were probably the same people that put spring break this year right during Easter time too.
As many of you know we have three kids and by sheer luck and good fortune this particular year we are blessed enough to have them in 3 different schools. That is 3 different sets of teachers, principals, and administrative staff that we deal with, 3 different routes to drop off and pick up, and of course, three very separate Christmas concerts, all within those last couple weeks of school. Also not to mention the other things that lead up to Christmas like the pancake breakfasts, the kids’ parties, and the gifts for their friends and teachers. It was just a lot to do in what felt like a really short space of time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining or anything. I mean, at least we don’t have snow on the ground, am I right? I’m just saying that the kids getting out of school so late put a bit more stress on an already stressful time of year. And I don’t think anyone out there would deny that this is a stressful time of year, whether or not you are lucky and fortunate enough to be a pastor with 3 kids in 3 different schools. And yes, I suppose some of the things around preparing for this season could have been done earlier, but c’mon, let’s be honest with ourselves, ya?
So as extremely unlikely as it would be and as selfish and narrow-minded as it makes me sound, I kind of wish that the school planners would have had all this somewhat in mind when planning when to let school out for the winter break. With the increasing levels of busyness and stress that comes with this season, that maybe they’d cut us a bit of slack leading up to the holiday that takes up so much of our time in preparing and planning. With the more elaborate and demanding Christmas concerts at least at my kids’ schoolS (emphasis on that plural), you’d think that they would at least schedule them earlier before Christmas so there isn’t such a time constraint for us parents. And with what seems to be more and more pressure to make Christmas perfect and magical for our kids or else you’ll be seen as an unloving parent, you’d think that the schools would at least appear to be trying to give us the time to do that.
And that is the problem, isn’t it? It’s like Christmas isn’t Christmas unless it is perfect, if it isn’t magical, if it isn’t grand, larger than life, and blowing your socks off. So we try to do more. Buy more. Be more than we are actually capable of. And maybe this is a reason why depression is usually on the rise around Christmas time because the expectation that it is supposed to be magical usually goes unmet.
Yet, it doesn’t stop us from trying. And don’t get me wrong, there really is nothing wrong with that. At least I hope not or I’ll have to return the gifts I bought my kids and my wife will have to return all the house decorations that she bought. And they’d have to return the gift that I bought myself and there’s no way I’d let them do that. There is nothing wrong with wanting to go big on Christmas, or we wouldn’t be here right now. There’s nothing wrong with going all out for this day or we wouldn’t have spent all this time setting up all these candles. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for the magic and wonder of Christmas or we wouldn’t have done all we could to bring out that magic.
I think the problem is when that drive for perfection, for the grand, for the over-the-top begins to define this day, pulls it away from the roots of humility and love, service and community, justice and peace. The problem is when we don’t see Christmas as Christmas if it isn’t this larger-than-life grand magical production full of great music, great decorations, and a great sermon. The problem is when our need for this season to be what we envision overpowers what this season actually is: celebrating the entering of Jesus our Lord into our world, into our lives, and into our hearts.
Because if you think about it, Christ’s entry into the world wasn’t anywhere near perfect by our definition, wasn’t magical in how we’d hope, and certainly wasn’t grand, over the top, or larger than life. If anything it was messy, stressful, and a drop in the bucket of many scandalous illegitimate births of displaced and unnoticed people. It was very imperfect, nowhere near convenient, and so very very smelly as it usually is in barns where animals eat and produce… uh… what that eating produces.
That is what Jesus entered in. That is how he was received. That was the first sight to hit his human eyes, first sound to echo in his human ears, first smells that whiffed into his human nose. If it weren’t for the generosity of those animals, there wouldn’t have been crib. If it weren’t for the local shepherds, there wouldn’t have been a congregation. If it weren’t for Mary’s vocal retelling of the story and Luke writing it down, no one would even know about it or at least remember it now.
Not very magical. Not very grand. Not very perfect.
But it was magical in that it was God with us born as a human baby. It was grand in that it was the event the sparked a change in history and the way the world sees the world. It was perfect as it was exactly how God spoke to us, how we needed God to speak to us, how God revealed to us love and humility, how God entered the world in a way that is tangible, understandable, and relatable.
Because who here doesn’t know what it’s like to be stressed out? Who here doesn’t know how it feels to be unprepared and caught by surprise? Who here doesn’t know what manure smells like?
And that is Christmas. Not manure, but celebrating the relatability of God. Celebrating the fact that God intimately knows what we face and go through on a daily basis. Celebrating us and each other, that in all of our imperfections and unpreparedness, in all our mistakes and failed efforts, in all our blemishes and bad smells, that God still enters our lives, blesses us with God’s unfaltering love, and remains so very present with us, alongside us, and all around us.
So if you want to go grand and all out for Christmas, go for it, God will be there. Also if you don’t and don’t even have as much as a piddly Charlie Brown tree and a broken string of lights, God will be there as well. If you want to be over the top and larger than life through the season and give the best gifts and parties, more power to you, God will be there. But if you also wanted to just stay at home with your loved ones, sharing a beverage or two, watching the holiday log on tv, God will be there also. If you want to attempt to go to all the events the community and city has to offer for the festivities, I hope you can as God will be there. But if you just want to go to your kids’ Christmas concerts and maybe a service or two with a perhaps less than stellar sermon, that also is so very much ok, because God will very much be there too.
God with us. God loving us. God as one of us.
The magic of the season for us doesn’t come from the production, but it comes from God loving us. The grandeur of this day doesn’t come from going over the top, but it comes from how deep and how wide the grace and welcome of God is, encapsulating all people, joining us together as brothers and sisters. The perfection of Christmas, the very reason we celebrate, the very thing that brings us together to begin with is not from our own sense of duty or want or need for being great, but that perfection comes from God being our God, and being with us in spite of our not being perfect or the greatest, but meets us where we are as who we are and lifting us up as God’s own children.
Because that is the promise of Christmas. God with us. Immanuel. In everything that we are, we do, and long for, God is with us, loving us, welcoming us, and bringing us peace and joy in knowing that God lives not within only the perfect, but is revealed in the imperfect as well.
This Christmas, as we gaze on the face of the Christ child born in our midst, may we see and recognise God present and active in the world, bringing us hope and peace with the love and joy that spans all time and space and enters into our hearts, this time of year and always. Thanks be to God. Amen.