The Perfect Christmas
Two writers offer their thoughts on what it means to celebrate when reality and expectations collide.
Songs on the radio, television specials, a glut of holiday advertising—our culture’s message is clear as the glass on a snow globe: The ideal celebration can, and should, be yours. But reality is often different. For many people, the weeks leading up to Jesus’ birthday are fraught with tension and difficulty, and the pressure to have a picture-perfect holiday lingers not so subtly in the back of our minds. What we need is a different mindset.
Peace, Not Perfection
A partially paralyzed man was having trouble navigating the store aisle crowded with holiday shoppers. As he passed me, the bustling crowds pushed us toward each other, and I heard him whisper shyly, “Merry Christmas.” His body was broken, but he radiated peace.
I was reminded that Christmas is about God’s peace coming to dwell in the midst of our imperfections. After all, that first Noel didn’t seem perfect. No woman wants to give birth surrounded by farm animals. Riding a donkey in the ninth month of pregnancy doesn’t rank high on anyone’s list, either. But every detail, every inconvenience and indignity, was part of God’s mysterious plan.
We can get caught up in the myth of a perfect celebration when it reflects what we want for ourselves. But Christmas is about the truest gift: peace in a fallen world and the call to trust in God’s plan.
The big day comes whether we’re ready or not. Though the thought may strike fear in some, this, too, is God’s grace. His blessings aren’t held captive by busy schedules. Peace is not a reward for those who wrap up everything by December 24. There can be no mad rush, no frantic preparations for the real spirit of Christmas; it simply fills our hearts as we are and where we are. Much the same, Christ did not need us to finish our work before He could save us. God’s salvation has always found us in the most unlikely of places and conditions—even kneeling at a manger in a stable.
And that's an unlikely place to be, indeed, especially for a new mother. I often think that if Joseph had planned better, they could have gotten to Bethlehem earlier. They might have gotten a room. Mary would have been more comfortable. The whole situation seemed to be a frustrating mess.
But in that stable, God celebrated the birth of His Child and the culmination of centuries of waiting and preparation. If anyone had a right to demand that everything be perfect on that day, it was God. Perhaps the Father wanted privacy—an intimate, quiet setting for the birth of His Son. After all, if Mary had gotten a room in the inn, she would have been surrounded by people, and nothing is more distracting than a helpful stranger. But God gave us Jesus on His terms and in His way. If that first Christmas morning seemed less than ideal, it was something else entirely. It was divine.
You may not spend Christmas morning in a stable. You may get a room at the inn. You may even finish your shopping and bake the cookies and decorate the tree. But should your body become weary, if your path becomes difficult, and if nothing goes as planned, remember that you can embrace Christmas right where you are. Reject the false promises of perfection. You don’t have to wait for peace, because peace didn’t wait for you.
It is here now. Kneel at the manger and see.
It is Jesus.
— Ginger Garrett
Christmas Past, Christmas Present
Do you ever feel that Christmas isn’t as wonderful as it used to be? Now that I’m a busy wife and mother, I think fondly of Decembers when I was single. Shopping for just my immediate family was quick, and cooking took almost no time at all. I had plenty of time to serve others. But what I miss most is the ample solitude I had for reflecting on Christ’s birth and its significance in my life.
Today, December is a whirlwind. Both my husband’s parents and mine are divorced. We have siblings who visit from out of town at different times. That means we meet with various family members for about five or six gift exchanges, which usually also involve a meal. The last couple of years, I’ve been so busy shopping, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, and celebrating that I haven’t had time to enjoy what used to make this season so special for me.
I’m tempted to think, Christmas was so much better in the “good old days.” Maybe you can relate. Human nature tends to romanticize the past, especially if we perceive today to be somehow less desirable. But our calling as believers is to live in the present. How can we make the most of this Christmas, when memories of better days so often interfere?
Without a doubt, the most important thing to do is to cultivate our relationship with God. We have limited control over circumstances, but we can always do something about our prayer lives. The difference in our perspective is amazing when we have committed a situation to God, heard from Him about it, and decided to rely on His strength instead of our own.
Once we are walking in close fellowship with God, we should take steps to improve our circumstances. I’m not talking about trying to recreate the past. Instead, our focus should be on making the present the best it can be. Maybe, like me, you need to talk to your extended family about scaling back on the number of gifts. Or perhaps you will be alone on Christmas Day and need to tell your church family so that you can be included in someone’s celebration. Try to assess what is difficult about your Christmas, and ask God for a practical way to address it.
It’s quite likely that despite your best efforts, there will be aspects of this December that will remain less than ideal. Allow those painful, stressful, or busy moments to draw you closer to God. Remember His constant presence in your life and His unconditional love for you, His child. Talk to Him about what hurts, and ask Him for wisdom to handle your struggles. As you do so, thank God that you know the spiritual significance of the season and have allowed it to change your life.
A famous Christmas song calls the season “the most wonderful time of the year.” Unfortunately, it can be the most difficult time for many people too. The good news is that for a believer, this holiday doesn’t have to make us miserable, even if our lives aren’t what they once were. With Jesus in the midst of all we do, Christmas can be what it should be—even better than it was in “the good old days.”
— Suzanne Lesser