We will have a white Christmas here at home in Bend, Oregon. It’s been dumping snow off and on for a month now and we’ve got heaps of it lining our icy roads.
So, the kids started debating about what makes a white Christmas. Does it actually have to be snowing or is it OK if there is snow on the ground? And how much snow? And does it count if you’re not at your own home? Or does visiting a snowy place for Christmas not count?
For some reason, we’ve decided as a culture that Christmas is somehow better if it’s a white one. But for someone who has only had a handful of white Christmases, this requirement for the ultimate in Christmas has made for more disappointment than joy.
When we think about it, there are a lot of expectations — spoken and otherwise — that steal out joy, because we simply can’t meet them.
To make Christmas perfect, we need …
Exceptional food — the perfect meal, the perfect desserts, the perfect beverages.
Exceptional gifts — gifts that perfectly meet the desires of those receiving them and yet are so surprising and creative that the receivers are both surprised and amazingly grateful.
Exceptional behavior by family members — no fighting, no disagreeing, no envy, no awkward conversations, just a warm glow of happiness.
Exceptional meaning — for those of us who follow Jesus, we long for a day that is filled with all of the other trimmings but remains deep and worshipful without being forced. Kind of like a spontaneous Bible study filled with profound insight but which is completely natural and unlike any we’ve ever experienced elsewhere.
We want the trees, the lights, the ornaments, the sweets, the drinks, the songs, the tree, the decorations, the gifts, the family, the friends, the parties, the worship, the specials, the snow, the everything.
We want Frosty and Rudolph and White Christmas and Santa Claus and A Miracle on 34th Street and everything that makes it A Wonderful Life. And so we overcommit. We stack up credit card debt. We overeat. We get in arguments with family and hate ourselves for it.
We want consumerism and family values and faith all wrapped up with a nice big bow. But it doesn’t exist.
When the angel told Joseph what to name the baby his fiancée Mary was going to give birth to, he said, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
At the center of the Christmas story is a recognition that we need to be saved from our sins. And yet at the center of our expectations for Christmas is our desire for perfection. How do those two go together? They don’t.
The wrapping paper, the tinsel, the gingerbread cookies, the gifts — they’re all good, but only when we know that none of it will be perfect and it’s our lack of perfection which made the first Christmas necessary to begin with.