Sunday, December 12, 2010

2010 Christmas Meditation #1

For years I thought that Christmas was about the perfect family holiday, full of traditions, and food made only once a year, and the perfect gifts, and everyone you love around you all happy and enjoying one another. After I was married and had a home of my own, I worked tirelessly (OK, I actually was VERY tired) to create the perfect holiday traditions for my family, incorporating some of my own childhood traditions with my husband's, and some of our own ideas as well. When the kids came along, I renewed my efforts to weave together the real meaning of Christmas with our own special ways of celebrating it and enjoying one another. Of course, every year, I got to Christmas day with those few things still unfinished, with a couple presents forgotten--it wasn't perfect, but it came close.  Or did it? Our first Christmas with our first baby was also the first Christmas after my mom went home to be with the Lord. One Christmas my husband completely missed Christmas day because he had food poisoning. Many Christmas celebrations found my husband out working his beat as a sheriff's deputy, or us rushing from one family member's house to another's, ending the day exhausted.

For years I thought I knew what God wanted me to have in the way of a "perfect" family. Oh, not perfect in the sense of sinless, but living our lives together biblically and growing in our love and service of Jesus and one another.  I worked very hard to be what I thought was the "perfect" wife and mother. I tried to encourage my husband to be the best he could be and I also tried to show grace and forgiveness when he wasn't (because I knew full well I wasn't!) I read books to become a better mother, a better housekeeper, a better Christian.  I made lists and tackled goals.  Life was moving along beautifully, or so I thought. Then one tragedy hit after another--the losses of my parents, and my marriage, debilitating health issues, the slow dwindling of my financial security until I was living on manna from heaven--life became very hard, and I felt all the time like I was barely keeping things together. I watched as my family moved from what I thought was "perfect" to what seemed to be barely functional. This was not what I had grown up expecting! This was not what I wanted, or what I thought God had planned for me.

I was reflecting on the beginning of the Christmas story today.
Oh what a precious promise,
Oh what a gift of love;
Joseph makes his choice to do
What few men would have done:
To take Mary as his bride,
When she's already carrying a child
That isn't his own.
Oh what a precious promise;
Mary and the child will have a home.

     (Precious Promise, by Steven Curtis Chapman)
Mary was a simple Jewish girl. She had lived a "perfect" life--simple and reverent, awaiting the day she would marry and have a perfectly simple home and family. God's plan for her was anything but simple.

Joseph was an earthy carpenter. He had lived an industrious life, perfectly suited to a man of the working class.  It had come time for him to marry, and he had chosen well--a simple girl, from a simple family, but perfect for him. Life was moving along beautifully, of so he thought. God's plan was anything but simple, anything but expected . . . but it was perfect.

God's plan for Mary and Joseph wasn't the common, expected plan for a young, simple Jewish couple--work, family, life, faith.  It turned their lives upside down. It brought challenges into their lives from every front. Their friends and family thought they were scandalously sinful and probably even crazy.  They ran from government oppression for which their baby was the cause.  They had to leave everyone they loved at a time when those dear people would suffer extreme loss and grief.  They had to leave a home, and an established occupation, and travel long distances with a young baby. They had to try to parent every other kid they had in the shadow of a perfect one, and they had to deal with their own sinful parenting in contrast to a sinless child (Ugh! The thought of that makes me glad I was the one chosen!) Eventually they would have to watch as their son was rejected, persecuted, gossiped about, and Mary would even have to watch her completely innocent son put to death on a cross. They had to wrestle with all of the worst of humanity in glaring contrast to the perfection of heaven, and up close they had to watch as humanity rejected what they knew was holy. Life did not seem perfect after they became the parents of the baby Jesus. It was hard and painful.

Once again today, I was reminded that the Christmas story was not about a lovely little tradition tied up in a pretty bow. The gorgeous nativity scenes we set out in our homes were not what the presence of littered hay, and animals, some dirty travel gear, and the remnants of childbirth would have looked like. The scent of cinnamon and spice candles does not accurately represent the stench of a lowly Galilean stable where a baby had just been delivered.  The aftermath of the birth of this holy king did not glow even as the shepherds knelt and the star shown down.  The long years after the baby arrived  most certainly did not seem to unfold perfectly as anyone else would have planned. But then, perfection couldn't look like anyone would have expected it to, because this world was far from perfect.  The world was corrupt, sinful, painful, and awful as the glory, beauty, and perfection of heaven was poured into it.

What was perfect was the baby held in the new parents' arms. What was perfect was the plan no one expected--a plan written by a perfect God from before time began. What would be perfect was what God brought out of the imperfect world after Jesus came. My life . . . your life . . . on their own--they aren't perfect. But with Jesus they are exactly what God planned for them to be, and that makes it perfect. Christmas isn't about a perfect tradition, it's about a messy one. When I don't get my decorations up "on time," when I struggle to smile because I miss family members and traditions that only I remember, when I can't buy presents for my own kids . . . it's exactly the kind of life that Jesus came to be a part of--a messy, troubled, painful, imperfect one.  A perfect God came into a very imperfect world, and I am a part of the miracle that He is still working today revealed in that one event 2000 years ago. That is a reason to celebrate. That is Christmas.

No comments: