We are a mere 10 days away from Christmas day. The excitement in the air is thick at my house. My kids wake up every morning and run to the calendar to count the number of days they still have to wait until Christmas. I remember those feelings of agony and anticipation as a kid. December felt like the longest month ever.
As an adult, December always seems to fly by. There is never enough time.
I always have grand goals coming into the holiday season. I constantly have to tell myself to lower my expectations. I recognize that I can’t possibly achieve all of my perfect holiday dreams.
I want to get all my shopping done in an orderly fashion, early, and with the lowest budget possible. I want to have a daily advent activity with the kids to help them learn about the gift of Jesus’ birth. I want to do crafts and bake goodies. I want to attend all of the holiday parties, sharing Christmas joy with our friends and family. I want to volunteer and give to others in the community. I want to play in the snow and sing Christmas carols. I want to send Christmas cards and gifts to everyone we know.
With less than two weeks left before the big day, I’m realizing that, once again my expectations were far too high. Once again, there is still a lot of shopping to be done and I’ve already overspent. We tried to do an advent activity one day and the kids fell asleep. My kids can tell you we celebrate Jesus birthday at Christmas, but they really only care about Santa. My daughter has planned many crafts and we’ve done none of them. Holiday parties seem to end in epic meltdowns. We nearly forgot about the one act of giving we committed to this year. And I’ve been running in shorts for 3 days, so there won’t even by any snow to play in this Christmas.
One might think our picture perfect holiday dreams were turning out to be a big fail.
But this year, I’m not listening to the guilt that tries to tell me that Christmas has to be perfect and meet all my expectations. This year I’m not focused on the events and activities and traditions.
When Christ was born, His birth was far beneath the expectations I imagine Mary may have had regarding the birth of the Savior of the world. I’m sure she planned a perfect birth, fit for the future king, not a birth on a long journey, far from home in a stable among animals and hay. What King should be born in such a place of stench and filth?
This Christmas I’m remembering that Christ has never called us to perfection. His birth story alone proves that perfection is not the point at all. He has never called us to unrelenting stress. He has never called us to overwhelming traditions and frivolous activity, even to mark such a grand occasion as His birthday. He has called us to a life of peace and love and joy.
So this year, I’ve committed myself to finding beauty and blessing amidst the stress and mess of my Pinterest fail December. We’ll still do the gifts, the parties, and the celebrating, but mostly, I’m just sitting back and noticing, watching, enjoying the gifts of time with loved ones, the gifts of joy and laughter. I’m showing up for Christmas to experience it as a gift, not as an obligation to do more stuff.
Christ did not come to give us opportunities to light candles and sing carols. Christ did not come to give us a reason to gorge ourselves on ham and cookies. Christ did not come for gifts or parties or crafts.
Christ came to be Immanuel, God with us.
This year, my focus is not so much on making memories and participating in traditions and doing all the things our culture tells me we must do to give our kids the best Christmas. Instead, I’m watching and searching and longing to see God with us.
This year, more than ever before, I need to experience Immanuel, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. I need to feel the fullness of His presence here on Earth. I need to notice the real, actual gift that His birth gives; and it has nothing to do with memorable traditions and making merry everywhere I go. Whatever that even is.
Immanuel, the gift of a Savior, to save me from my mess. To save me from my filth. To save me from my stress. To save me from myself.
Immanuel, here with us. If only we would stop our shopping and cooking and tradition-ing long enough to notice Him.
To notice Him in the beauty of a sunrise. To notice Him in the laughter of our children. To notice Him in the love shared among friends. To notice Him in the peace of an early morning rain shower. To notice Him in the quiet and the loud, the hurry and the slow. May we notice that He is all around us. That His presence is thick and rich and full. That His glory shines through the dark places and makes all things new and wonderful and holy.
He does not need advent calendars and Christmas crafts. He does not need candles and packages, ribbons, or bows. He does not need perfect Bible lessons and children who can recite all the verses related to His birth.
He simply wants to be with us.
This is Christmas. The presence of an Almighty God in the middle of our everyday lives. The experience of His love appearing in the messiest of places, bringing glory and beauty, even among a stable filled with animals or a life filled with failures. Immanuel, God with us. Everyday.