Celebrating the Perfect Gift in
an Imperfect World
Download Audio (10.9MB)
Why do I always wish for a perfect Christmas?
I have an image of one in my head—one that I can’t even fully describe. It’s nostalgic, soft and cozy, magical, and memorable. But year after year, I find myself feeling disappointed when Christmas doesn’t turn out the way I had hoped, or when circumstances aren’t exactly what I would have chosen.
Come to think of it, I doubt that any Christmas throughout the ages has ever been “perfect.” Even the first Christmas, the day that is our reason to celebrate a loving Savior coming to earth as a baby, didn’t appear perfect.
If Mary was anything like a normal woman on the day of the birth of her first child, she most likely went through the difficulty of childbirth, followed by complete exhaustion.
Joseph might have been worried about his new family’s future. He was also probably a bit embarrassed; after all, he couldn’t find any better place for his young wife to have her first child than a place where animals ate and lived. Maybe he wondered what kind of provider he would be in the years to come.
A small group of shepherds were most likely completely freaked out, at least at first, when an angel appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the night. Maybe they thought it was the end of the world, which was probably why the angel had to start his message with “Fear not!”1
Wise men, hundreds of miles away, were confused and wondering, as they beheld an amazing happening in the sky, so much so that they decided to travel a long way to find out exactly what was going on. Even once they reached Judaea, their curiosity and confusion probably grew, as there was no baby king to worship in that country. Their journey extended until they finally found a young child, who had no worldly honor and praise, but they knew that He was the one who deserved their three precious gifts.
All Jews of that time had been displaced due to a new law; they were traveling, probably depressed, homesick, or physically ill, maybe even wondering why God was allowing them to go through all of that, and if He even cared. His answer had already descended to earth and was lying in the most unlikely place—a manger.
That first Christmas was not perfect, nor has any Christmas since that day been perfect.
Yet each Christmas is beautiful!—For the love that is shared on that day, for the giving and receiving of gifts from the heart, for the joy of being with family and friends, for the excitement and wonder of the season itself.
And if nothing else, if you find that during this special season you are alone, sad, or in despair, Christmas is still the most wonderful and beautiful time of year, because of the promise that was given and is renewed each Christmas. It is the promise of a love that is enduring and true, that compelled Jesus to leave the most wonderful place in existence to walk earth’s dusty roads. It’s what made Him willing to experience deprivation, pain, and death, so that He could fulfill the promise to walk each step of that same road with each of us.
No one is ever completely alone, and Christmas is a day to realize the beauty of such a marvelous gift—love eternal, and the promise of life forever with the Creator of that love.
He is, after all, the reason for the season.—Jewel Roque2
Out of ivory palaces
For many individuals, Christmas is anything but wonderful. In fact, the joviality, décor, and the music simply strike dissonant chords because of the memories, emotions, and experiences associated with this season. … There are many who grieve the loss of a loved one through cancer or some other debilitating or destructive disease. For them, Christmas reminds them of yet another empty chair. Others experience joblessness or underemployment, numbing loneliness, disappointed expectations, ruptured relationships, and rejection that twist and distort the joy of the season into a garish spectacle. Instead of uplifting them in celebration, the most wonderful time of the year seems a cruel mockery…
All the excitement, anticipation, and beauty of the season can easily be frozen by pain, disappointment, and grief; instead of singing songs of joy, a bitter moan emanates like the cold, frostbitten wind.
Into this world—the world of the bleak midwinter—God arrived. Not sheltered from grief or pain, God descended into a world where poverty, violence, and grief were a daily part of God’s human existence in the person of Jesus. Joseph and Mary, barely teenagers, were poor, and Mary gave birth to the Messiah in a dirty barn. Herod the Great used his power to slaughter all the male children who were in Bethlehem under the age of two. Shepherds slept on grassy hills, their nomadic home. Even in Jesus’ public ministry, his cousin, John the Baptist, would be beheaded. Jesus would experience rejection and eventually die a criminal’s death, with only a few grieving women remaining at his side. The old hymn “Out of the Ivory Palaces” said it well:
Out of the ivory palaces, into a world of woe,
Only His great, eternal love, made my Savior go.
Into this world—our world of bleak midwinter—God arrives. God arrives in the midst of pain and suffering, doubt and disappointment, longing and loneliness to make a home with us, to be alongside of us because of “great, eternal love.” The Gospel of John tells us that God did not stay removed from us or from our sufferings, but that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”3 For those who find the Christmas season far from the “most wonderful time of the year,” Immanuel, God with us, comes to be our consolation.
And those who celebrate this season as the most wonderful time of the year can demonstrate its beauty, joy, and celebration by reaching out to those in bleak midwinter, doing our part, giving our all, sharing our hearts.—Margaret Manning4
If you’re like me, when Christmas comes around, you have an idea of what the perfect Christmas should be like. Maybe you have a mental picture of the perfect tree and decorations, somewhere ideal to go on holiday, the perfect Christmas dinner surrounded by family and friends, eggnog, Christmas cake, or whatever it is that you love. Maybe your perfect Christmas would be movie-ideal, where the music is playing when you open your presents, and your presents are exactly what you’ve always wanted …
I don’t know about you, but my Christmases have rarely turned out that “picturesque” or perfect. Yes, they have been both beautiful and fun, and I have created great memories, but phrases that describe my last few Christmases range from “a quiet Christmas” to “embrace the chaos.” And none of them were anything remotely like my picture-perfect ideal Christmas; however, all of them have come to be very special memories that I treasure.
Only recently have I truly decided that Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to bowl me over with magic as long as there’s love, happiness, and time taken to celebrate Jesus’ birth.
After all, the first Christmas was pretty messy. If we were trying to re-create it perfectly, we’d need to be homeless, tired, and traveling for the sole purpose of registering for taxes. That doesn’t sound fun or perfect on any level! Add to that having a baby and settling for the night with cows and sheep in an old barn, and you’ve pretty much described what for me would sound like the worst day ever!
However, I know that God worked a bit of His own special magic into that night, with angels appearing to shepherds and a new star appearing which would later lead the three wise men to search out the king who had been born. I bet Mary and Joseph always treasured that crazy night, and would often recount the amazing story to Jesus when He was growing up. Life today can be pretty messy as well, but Jesus always shows up and adds His own special touch of wonderful.
If you ever feel sad that your Christmas isn’t turning out to be all you’d hoped it would be, one thing that really helps is finding a way to make someone else’s Christmas a little better. As a kid, I used to visit people at retirement homes with my family during the Christmas season. It was so nice to see how happy it made them. The simple act of showing up helped them know that they weren’t alone or forgotten, and that someone would come and sing for them or make them Christmas cards or whatever we decided to do each year.
Visiting orphanages and retirement homes during the holiday season reminded me of how much I had to be thankful for, and made those little grumbles about not having my “perfect” Christmas seem less important.
There’s nothing wrong with spending time trying to create a beautiful Christmas and having traditions or expectations of things that make it special for you and your friends and family; just don’t get discouraged if everything isn’t perfect. Maybe your parents don’t have the budget for the kind of presents your friends get at Christmas, or you don’t get to see all your family due to them living far away, or any number of things that make it less than ideal for you.
If anything less than perfect turns up at Christmas, you can make it a personal challenge to find beauty in the chaos. God often likes to show up in imperfect circumstances much like He did in that stable long ago, and He can help you focus on what it is that makes Christmas truly wonderful.
At Christmas we celebrate Jesus coming to earth in a pretty imperfect environment, but the love that His birth means to us makes the day unforgettable. The best Christmas memories are not necessarily of things turning out perfectly but often of the slightly crazy times surrounded by the love of family and friends. When we stop and think how much we have to be thankful for, we can truly enjoy a wonderfully imperfect Christmas.
“Christmas isn’t about perfection. It’s celebrating the One who saved us from our impossible need to be perfect.”5—Tina Kapp6
Published on Anchor December 2015. Read by Carol Andrews. Music taken from the Rhythm of Christmas album. Used by permission.
1 Luke 2:8–10.
2 Excerpted from a Just1Thing podcast.
3 John 1:14.
5 Tsh, “Embrace Imperfection,” Simple Mom, December 24, 2012, http://simplemom.net/plan-your-peaceful-christmas-embrace-imperfection.
6 Adapted from a Just1Thing podcast, a Christian character-building resource for young people.