I’ve often imagined Mary and Joseph introducing the shepherds to baby Jesus in the same way parents bring their new baby to church for the first time—squeaky clean and wearing a ruffly dress.
Members flock around and pass the baby back and forth, commenting on how much the little lump looks like her mom or dad.
Actually, the stable was probably a bit of a mess. Not only had it recently housed animals, but Mary had also given birth there.
Maybe Jesus hadn’t gotten all his sweet crevices washed out completely.
Maybe he was colicky.
And yet, even as Mary was recovering and welcoming shepherds as her first post-birth visitors, she treasured all that had happened, pondering it in her heart (Luke 2:19).
She embraced the experience in the midst of her pain and discomfort.
As I read news headlines and see the struggles of friends close to me, I’m reminded that pain isn’t put on hold for the Christmas season, no matter how much tinsel and merry feelings we try to cover it up with.
We long for freedom from disappointments in our family and other relationships.
My mentor Natalie reminded me that many of us put all our energy into trying to make our world look the way we think it should, instead of being okay with our broken lives.
It’s natural to desire perfection because that’s the way the world was made. It was all good.
But when human sin messed everything up,
God didn’t throw it all away.
He allowed it to be broken.
One of the ways I’ve attempted to fix my world has been through trying to start traditions for my family. I’ve wanted to recreate the moments that I can remember from growing up (though my mom doesn’t seem to remember my childhood holidays as glowingly as I can).
If I could only set the scene with Christmas tree, goodies, laughter, and feelings of peace and goodwill, I would be happy.
When I don’t feel the same way in the present as I remember experiencing in the past, I’ve wanted to take charge of others’ behavior to try and manufacture that joy.
When I’ve tried to be in control of my circumstances, it’s only added to the frustration when I can’t make my husband’s work give him less responsibilities or cause my two year old to reflect on the beauty of advent.
On Thanksgiving, as I was listening to the Sons and Daughters Sovereign Grace cd, the Spirit (and probably a few pregnancy hormones) brought tears to my eyes as I realized that what I needed more than recreating the right tradition was a simple memorial or two that would remind me and my family of the gospel.
God made flesh.
God with us.
God to the rescue.
It might not be glittery or be Pinterest-worthy.
We may not get to an Advent reading every night. (Or when we do, our son may be more interested in smashing his peas on his plate one by one, rather than listening to the Scripture.)
It may even keep us from participating in all the “good deed” opportunities that spring up this time of year.
Reminding ourselves and each other of the gospel will free our hearts to enjoy all the other beauties of Christmas.
Maybe it’s a comment to our children about how thankful we are Jesus came to live among us.
Maybe it’s a word of comfort or prayer for a friend who can’t see how God is working.
Maybe it’s a whispered prayer for Jesus’ joy when our husband comes home tired and not eager to listen to our troubles.
Or maybe it’s choosing to laugh when the tree gets knocked over and a few ornaments shatter into a million tiny pieces.
When we focus on the gospel, our souls will be at rest in the Jesus who came as a lumpy baby to live among us, experience life on earth while living it perfectly, and become the sacrifice for all the sins we stain the world with every day.
Pain, messiness, and beauty can live together as we remember the reason Jesus came to earth, and then allow ourselves to delight in the smell of a fresh Christmas tree, twinkly icicle lights, gifts that make our children laugh, and the same songs that come back to warm us like an embrace.
And when we’re just too distracted by the difficult circumstances to see the beauty on earth, we can grit our teeth and grab hold of the gospel as we acknowledge God’s love and all the other spiritual blessings we might not feel.
Will you take a moment the next time you’re staring at your Christmas tree or a flickering candle, to travel back in time, push aside the straw to sit by Mary as she traces the curves of Jesus’ face?
Will you reflect on the wonder of it all—God with us?
And will you invite others to do the same?