As a wife, mother, and hostess, there is so much to do this Advent in order to prepare for Christmas. I want everything to be just perfect at Christmas time. Christmas lights, Christmas cookies, Christmas cards, Christmas tree, Christmas clothes for the kids, Christmas presents—I feel this pressure sometimes to make everything the best that it can be, to create a “magical” kind of Christmas day.
Much of this comes from my own struggle with pride, but our surrounding culture plays its own role too. After all, aren’t we told that this is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year?” There are a lot of expectations to meet!
Too Busy to Welcome the Christ Child?
There have been a number of Christmas days in the past, filled with all kinds of festivities, when, at the end of the day, I faced a strange realization: amidst all the celebrating, I didn’t really pray. The busyness of my Christmas day consumed my normal times of prayer.
I think the devil can take many of our good intentions and twist them into snares for us. Wanting to celebrate Christ’s birth is a wonderful desire. But celebrating in such a way that distracts us from what we are actually celebrating is to our own detriment.
A Seemingly Imperfect First Christmas
The first Christmas was—by many standards—far from perfect. Our beautiful Nativity scenes may, in some ways, disguise for us the severe reality of that night. It must have been down-right harrowing as St. Joseph desperately sought a place for Mary to give birth. Our Lord’s crib was a rough feeding trough for animals. Meanwhile a tyrant loomed in the background, making preparations to kill the newborn child. None of this was comfortable or convenient.
Yet, God designed the way He wanted to enter our world. He could have done it in any number of ways. This is the way He chose. And if God chose it, it is perfect.
Maybe Christmas cookies with burnt bottoms, Christmas cards with children who aren’t all smiling, Christmas clothes that are wrinkled, Christmas lights that flicker because one bulb burnt out, a Christmas tree that is too skinny—maybe all these imperfections that I’ve worked so hard to eliminate, actually in a strange way contribute to the perfection of Christmas. The imperfections remind us that we aren’t perfect. We’re not going to get it all right. We need a Savior.
The Perfect Christmas Gift
I once had a conversation with my mother that has remained with me. My mom was reminiscing about Christmas a few years ago. My brother had been sick in the hospital in the days leading up to Christmas day. We weren’t sure if he would be home with us for Christmas or not. Then, at the last possible moment on Christmas Eve, the hospital discharged him. My mom described, “I was driving to CVS that Christmas Eve night, going to pick up a prescription the hospital ordered. And I thought to myself, ‘This is one of my favorite Christmases.’” It had nothing to do with the perfect gift, the perfectly cooked meal, the perfect home decor. My brother coming home to us was the perfect gift.
Since then my dear brother passed away. I wondered, after his death, how Christmas would feel. How could it ever feel “perfect?” Well, it wasn’t. Something was missing that Christmas; something is always missing without him. Bing Crosby sang, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams … ” Through the grace of God, my brother is home for Christmas. Christ didn’t come to make this Earth His homeland; neither is it ours. That longing I now have in my heart, when I miss my brother’s stocking on the mantle, reminds me that there is a heavenly celebration that far exceeds anything I can do here. The perfect Christmas celebration is in heaven.
So if I can let go of some of my controlling desire to make things “perfect” this coming Christmas, I will probably have more time to focus on Christ who is Perfection.
Interestingly, my favorite part of Christmas day (aside from Christmas Mass, of course) is something incredibly simple. On Christmas morning, before we gather around to open presents, we place the infant Jesus in the manger. Then we all sing “Happy Birthday” to Him. Each year it never fails to make me feel a little teary-eyed. When we strip aside all the festivities, that’s what it all comes down to: the birthday of Our Lord. We are celebrating Him.
I pray that the imperfections of your Christmas celebrations will draw you closer to the Perfect Infant, whose birth we celebrate.