With the joyful endings of cheesy, Hallmark movies, comes the subconscious expectation that somehow during Christmas, everyone will get along, then snowflakes will fall at precisely the right time and in a perfect quantity.
It would make a terrible greeting card, but for many people, Christmas isn’t the “Happiest time of the year”, but actually one of the most difficult.
For me, this season will forever be tied to the anniversary of the big car accident that nearly took my life, four years ago and just five days before Christmas. Of all seasons, it is in this one that my family and I are most aware of our mortality and that nothing on this side of heaven can be taken for granted.
A season that often incorporates time with family also makes strained relationships or absences excruciatingly clear. The annual nativity plays prepared by my large group of cousins when we were kids provides a perfect example. Soon after announcing that a play was going to be attempted, a disagreement would often ensue over who was directing, the make and model of Mary’s donkey, and the finer points of the bible story and the parts to be enacted. It would often end with Mary or Joseph concluding the final rehearsal on non-speaking terms with the other party.
Our little nativity plays dealt with quite a set of high-maintenance actors and directors, so problems were aplenty right from the onset, for instance, pinning down roles. One year, my 5-year-old cousin exclaimed that he refused to be “no stupid wise shepherd!” Our cast also included actors with a reputation for quitting just moments before curtain call.
My family provided foster care for many precious infants, whose presence sometimes coincided perfectly to allow for a real, live, baby Jesus in our nativity plays. When this was the case, Mary, and sometimes a wise man or two, would become aggressive lobbyists for the job of cradling baby Jesus.
So, on a nearly annual basis, our little plays would unintentionally point to the real fact of Christmas: its occurrence was an act of divine intervention, requiring the awe and wonder of all. We would have kept the true Christmas spirit much more accurately had the pervading emotion been one of grace for our fellow actors (or sheep, as the case may be).
While we now laugh off those childish expectations for a Broadway worthy nativity reenactment, the fact remains that we still do—consciously or not—set impossibly high hopes of this day, and get disappointed if it turns out otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, it may still be one of your best days ever, filled with lots of warm-and-fuzzy moments and meaningful gifts. But it’s just as likely to be far from perfect and make you extremely aware that you’re not in heaven yet.
This year, how about this for a change? Expect that not everything will be perfect, laugh about the mishaps and then strive to fill your heart with gratitude. Shift the focus from your wish list, to the greatest gift of salvation, which you’ve already received. Let our love for others flow out of our thankfulness to God for His gift of salvation to us.