It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I’ve always wanted to write that. I know my life could be much worse, and it certainly could be better.
Our family has had a few rough months; the year actually: we’ve had five family deaths. Without boring you with tedious details, or grossing you out with medical diagnosis, or betraying family confidences, or writing a lengthy book, here is enough information to give you a picture of what has happened over the last couple of months; four family crises, three separate people’s trips to ERs in two days, multiple hospitals and nursing homes, then another family member dying on the operating table two weeks ago.
The Tuesday before Christmas, I hadn’t shopped for my family. Shopping wasn’t the priority, nor was it urgent. My heart wasn’t into the Christmas spirit.
I wanted to feel joy, but there was so much pain and stress that it drowned out joy. I’m a hopeless romantic and an idealist. I long for the idyllic, but I have been around enough years and heartache to know that this world isn’t idyllic.
As I thought about the perfect baby Jesus on a beautiful starry night complete with a serenading angelic host, I thought about the cost of following Him all the more. For Mary, a young and innocent girl, it cost her greatly. She was maligned, because she said yes. Joseph, her honorable betrothed, was incriminated by honoring his commitment to Mary, because he said yes. He remained faithful to his commitment, regardless of how it looked to onlookers.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if God had the angel appear to everyone?! To clear up any misunderstandings about what was really going on? To honor those who were willing to faithfully say yes to His requests?
God left things messy.
This year I thought a lot about the cost of saying yes. If I had been Mary, Joseph, or any one of the disciples, I think I would have been offended. I think I would have expected protection, health, honor, and security. If Mary and Joseph, and others closest to Jesus didn’t get the royal treatment, if Jesus didn’t get the royal treatment, why do I think I should?
Honestly, the suffering that all who were close to Jesus endured, made my suffering more bearable…somehow.
With much upheaval and unexpected travel, our family did not get to celebrate our Christmas until New Year’s eve morning. The night before New Year’s eve, we got back from visiting family; other family stayed with us overnight in our home, on their way back to their home. They left in the A.M., then we wrapped gifts like our hair was on fire! Finally, the moment came to wake our girl and have our Christmas.
The gifts were purchased and wrapped, but, I didn’t want to miss Jesus in the exchange.
While wrapping, I thought about Jesus coming to us, coming into our mess. He didn’t shy away from our mess, He came because of it. He came to make our lives better, now and for eternity. That is such good news!
We were ready to open presents. I put baby Jesus, from our nativity scene in the middle of the floor then announced that we were going to read the Christmas Story from Luke 2: 1-20. The story is about “good news,” not what we should do or what we should not do; it isn’t about making right choices, or advice—it is news, good news!
I said, “No Jesus, no Christmas. No Jesus, no presents.”
No one was dressed well or showered and I wanted to focus on each other, not the tumbler picture (for us old timers, that’s a Kodak moment.) I said no camera to which my daughter exclaimed, “Thank God!” I admit to being a bit of a paparazzi sometimes.
We read, then I shared with our family that we are messy and we are not perfect; Jesus does not expect us to be perfect. We love each other; imperfectly, but we do! And, Jesus loves us perfectly.
It was a moment and it was precious.
We left baby Jesus in the middle of the floor as we unwrapped our gifts. One bow left a pile of glitter that quickly found its way on every face in the room…with a little help from our girl (ok, I started it, my daughter finished it, and my husband tolerated it.) After all, it was New Year’s Eve and my grandma would have never left the house without glitter! The shine and joy re-entered Christmas for me that morning. I hadn’t missed it after all.
The sweet memory of the good gift of our belated Christmas morning warrants being opened over and over again. Jesus is a good gift, of good news, that beckons us to come again and again to unwrap the mystery of His birth, death, and resurrection, and especially what that means to us.
Has the suffering of Jesus ever helped your endure your suffering? Have you ever meditated on Jesus coming into your mess, because of your mess? Does that bring you comfort?
I hope you have good gifts to unwrap over and over again. Blessings to you and yours this New Year.