What’s your vision of the perfect Christmas? Is it this?
Or maybe this? Ok, this one is actually Thanksgiving, but you get the idea.
For me, it’s having the tree decorated with ornaments and twinkle lights. With presents underneath. The family is gathered around the table eating our traditional Christmas Eve meal of my mom’s famous broccoli soup and steamed shrimp. Then we all go to a late church service complete with Christmas carols and the singing of “Silent Night” by the light of the little candles they hand you when you walk through the door. Then we all go home to sit in the living room and sip a glass of wine by the light of the Christmas tree as snow quietly falls on the ground outside the window.
But when is life really like this? When is life ever really perfect? Will we get our perfect Christmases this year? I know I won’t. My mom and her husband are visiting us this year, but the rest of my family will be 1500 miles away. We might make the broccoli soup, but will probably be too tired to stay up for a late service on Christmas Eve. We might sip wine, but there will most definitely NOT be snow falling quietly anywhere near me. I do live in Texas, after all!
Life is full of imperfections. And messiness. And challenges. But do these things keep us from celebrating Christmas fully? Do they keep us from pondering the wonder of the virgin birth or the amazement of the Incarnation?
The first Christmas was pretty messy. I mean, think about it. Neither Mary nor Joseph – or either of their families – had planned to have a new baby join the family so soon.
But God showed up.
Lying in the manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths.
Born in a stable.
Bringing with him a message of hope. God will be with us.
Our lives today are pretty messy. But again, God shows up. Right in the middle of our mess. And brings us a message of hope…that God is with us.
Before the angel appeared to Mary in the beginning of Luke she was walking along an arranged path for her life. Her father had chosen a man for her to marry, a carpenter named Joseph and they were engaged. She was probably looking forward to being a wife. Weren’t you when you were engaged? Life was going swimmingly, right according to plan. And then the angel showed up and everything got messy real fast. Devastating, even. Pregnancy out of wedlock was a terrible crime in those days. And she knew that. And you can understand why her response to the angel was cautious. I can just imagine her saying to this glowing being in the middle of the night, “Um…How can this be? I’m a virgin,” she says. If it were me, I don’t think I would have been as polite…
Are we like Mary?
Are we willing to give up the safe and comfortable path of life for a messy one? Will we let the Holy One burst into our world, into our midst? Will we let God bring us the message of hope to us? Will we allow God to say to us that we don’t have to be perfect – to have it all together – to be able to receive the message of hope? We have the opportunity to open ourselves up to the unexpected and unimaginable. Will we let it happen? Will we give up on perfect?
What happens if that’s ok?
If life isn’t perfect?
Isn’t going to be perfect?
That perfection isn’t what we’re striving for anymore? Now what?
Do we keep on going? Keep trudging along?
We give up.
Let it go.
Give up on perfect and dive headlong into the messiness that is faith and hope and love and grace. Humble ourselves in front of the manger and at the foot of the cross.
Thankfully, God doesn’t want us to go it alone. God wants us to do it together – in community. Churches really are made up of messy people with messy lives who are clinging to the truth that God will show up.
We expect God to show up.
And God will show up.
Mandi Richey, Community Minister, Faith United Methodist Church, Austin