My hands toss into the air along with exasperated sighs and harsh words of frustration. Another strand of lights is only half working, when minutes before all had been working. I circle the tree like a Maypole without all the fun, undoing what I’d just spent twenty minutes doing when the lights spring back to life, and another strand suddenly goes dark. I look out the window and notice my neighbor’s tree, perfectly lit, as if posing for a typical Norman Rockwell portrait. Despite my Pinterest ambitions, my tree always manages to resemble Charlie Brown’s before the rest of the Peanuts magically transformed it. Once again, my imaginings of an idyllic Christmas are fading, and I haven’t finished the leftover Thanksgiving turkey.
Why do we year after year place such high expectaions on Christmas? Rockwell’s idyllic depictions leave us believing that nothing less than perfect will suffice. The advent of Pinterest with its impeccable trees, fine fireplaces, and consummate cookies has intensified the pursuit of ideal. Even the lesson plans on Pinterest make my holiday homeschool agenda seem ho-ho-hum. Christmas has become a competition for the best lights, best cookies, best centerpieces, best ugly sweater. We are trying to find the best ugly sweater, people. We’ve even created reality shows that seek out the best light displays in the world. Perhaps in our Griswold-crazed attempt to create a perfect holiday, much like Clark, we’ve missed the point entirely.
Each year, I display several nativity scenes: quaint, clean, lovely imitations of that night so long ago. I like to sit and imagine the peace-filled scene. The baby coos silently in his manger of hay, while Mary and Joseph admire him. Shepherds and wise men bring gifts, and everyone stands perfectly still, attempting to grasp the reality of God made flesh. But, that’s not even how it happened. Jesus burst into a broken, hurting world, not a Shakespearean pastoral. There was likely very little quaint about an uned teenage girl giving birth in a cave outside a city bustling with those who’d traveled for the census. Jesus was born at the time of Roman occupation. The Jews expecting a warrior king received an infant born to parents of modest means. A maniacal, crazed dictator named Herod was so hell-bent on eliminating any threat to his throne that he murdered babies to prevent Jesus from becoming king. Jesus’s parents had to flee to Egypt in the middle of the night to prevent persecution. There was no snow, no twinkling lights, and no stockings hung by the chimney with care.
I think in our perfection-riddled pursuits of an ideal that’s unattainable we miss the point of Christmas. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, did not come to create card-like celebrations of His birth. When we seek perfection or some ideal, we set ourselves up for disappointment and overlook those who are lonely and hurting becuase they don’t fit into our Christmas narrative. Yet, Jesus didn’t come for us to place unreasonable expectations on ourselves and to madly search for the perfect gift. He came to reconcile broken hearts to His. He came to heal, to restore, to forgive, and to make beauty from ashes. That is Christmas. There is only one thing perfect about Christmas, and that’s Jesus. So this Christmas, rather than carrying the heavy burden of the pursuit of some ideal, perfect day embrace the messy, brokenness, remembering that the infant child born in a manger became perfect so that we don’t have to. That’s the true perfection of Chrismtas. If we focus on God made flesh sent to dwell among us, Christmas day will be just as it should. So, this year, I’m going to relax in Christ’s finshed work in the glow of a partially lit tree.