Chasing the "Perfect" Christmas
The Following Blog Post Is By Brandon Adent
I am a sucker for Christmas movies, and one of my favorites is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I’ve probably watched it too many times. Well, most of it. There’s two parts that I’ve actually never seen, that we were trained to fast-forward, so I still do. My sincere thanks to Mom and Dad for that one.
I love Christmas Vacation because, like most Christmas movies, the protagonist is in pursuit of the perfect Christmas and does everything he can to make it happen. When things don’t go as planned, he forges ahead.
Of course, everything breaks. And it’s hilarious.
But in the end, the whole thing comes out more memorable, and “the best Christmas ever”. Why wouldn’t it? Isn’t that how Christmas works?
Ignoring Pain in Pursuit of Perfection
Last week, I referenced a chapter in J.I. Packer’s classic Knowing God. In doing so, I was reminded of how much I love it and began to re-read it in preparation for Christmas.
Which, by the way, is next Friday. You’re welcome.
Anyway, I got to thinking about Christmas as our culture celebrates it. Bells, reindeer, elves, snow-people, sleighs and Santa all came to mind, joyful and happy, and that’s great. Christmas is a really joyous time of year for a lot of people, and it should be, because it is!
But, it’s also a really hard time for others, their emotions sort of get sidelined in the whole thing. We’d rather not think about pain. We'd rather pursue perfection.
As someone who has always enjoyed Christmas, who gets along with family, who has always had more than he needed, and for the most part been able to give without worry or shame, it can be hard identifying with people who aren’t amped out of their minds about the Christmas season.
Actually, I often ignore them. Or call them Scrooge or something.
As I re-read Packer’s chapter on the incarnation, I was reminded that we are adopted by, love, and serve the God who not only cares for and about the broken, but identifies with them.
Jesus came to this world as God made Man in the body of a baby boy, born in a stable outside a hotel in Bethlehem, about six miles (as the crow flies) from Jerusalem, after Mary and Joseph’s multi-day journey from Nazareth.
The Bible says, in Luke 2.7, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son” - that’s Jesus - “and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn”.
In movies like Christmas Vacation, Christmas always seems to end up happy. Similarly, but I think even more so, this event has been really, really romanticized. If you think about it, there’s a lot of pain and sadness in this passage, alongside all the joy.
There’s not a whole lot in the text about Joseph and Mary’s interactions with the innkeeper. But every time I’ve heard or read this story, I’ve sort of thought of the innkeeper as gracious, doing as best as he or she could, and at least gave the young family shelter when there wasn’t any room for them otherwise.
Maybe there’s probably some truth to that.
But it never occurred to me that perhaps there was “no place for them in the inn” because no one made a place for them. No one looked at a very pregnant woman, likely in labor, who had just traveled several days, and offered her a bed.
I must recognize that this is a very “western” way of looking at the whole situation. I don’t know how this plays out seven thousand miles away and two thousand years later, or how this could have gone in a culture so different from ours. It’s tempting to turn this entire passage into a description of a mother mistreated, rather than the King coming.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think that’s the main point of the text. Packer argues that the text is not primarily concerned with morals, but what actually happened: the Son of God became human in Bethlehem, just as was prophesied.
Happiness and Sorrow
But I can’t read of such callousness toward the broken and needy and not be moved.
And it blows my mind that while I was needy, and calloused against God in His pursuit of me, the Son of God took the form of a human and ran towards the hurt, rather than away from it. That's what we celebrate at Christmas time.
Christmas is a reminder that God identifies with the broken, because He Himself has experienced brokenness, yet without sin.
That means that though we are broken, we have been healed in Christ. We can, and should enjoy and celebrate the coming of the Christ either way, while remembering the sad things we experience and looking forward to a day that there will be no tears.
So, just like sadness and joy coexist at the manger - and at the Cross - it’s okay to be happy and sad at the same time.
Honestly, I don’t really know how that looks practically.
But I think it starts with acknowledging pain and celebrating goodness where they’re found, rather than blindly forging ahead, intent on having a “perfect” Christmas. Jesus acknowledged the broken, identified with them in His coming, died and rose that His perfection might be ours.