The baby is sleeping, and the older two are resting when I pick up my phone to do a little browsing. Almost instantly I am overwhelmed by images of what-seem-to-be holiday perfection. Garland strewn across well-appointed mantles, Christmas cookies decorated with impeccable attention to detail, gifts wrapped with inventive materials, trees decked with enviable finery. I’m no stranger to all this; in fact I am drawn into the charm and whimsical beauty of it all.
But then slowly, silently, I feel it. The pressure to create a perfect holiday wells up from the pit of my stomach and begins to tighten around my throat. The images can be overwhelming; the expectations stifling. I glance around my own house and see a half-finished handmade garland with pine needles littering the tabletop, remnants from lunch sitting on the counter, toys strewn about the living room, and opened boxes of Christmas decorations serving as a tripping hazard in the hall. I haven’t started my Christmas shopping, and I haven’t iced a single cookie. In those moments, stylized images and my own unrealistic expectations collide with my current reality, and suddenly the holidays can feel like a high-stakes performance punctuated by the bitter taste of disappointment.
Since when did excessive commercialism subvert the birth of God-made-man in a lowly stable? What covert factors have worked to replace the gift of salvation with soon-to-be forgotten gifts that reek of materialism? When did cookie exchanges, visits to Santa, an elf on a shelf, coiffed trees and hot chocolate bars take precedence over the incredible miracle of God bending low and sending His son to take on flesh so that He might die on a cross and ransom us from the death we all deserve?
What has happened that we would rack up credit card charges to contribute to the accumulation of things, yet we wrap a tight fist around our cash when impoverished need stares us in the face? Why do we trample people on Black Friday yet tread on tiptoes when we speak His name? What has happened to Christmas?
The older I get, the more my heart is burdened by this over-commercialization of the holiday. For the past couple years, as this time has rolled around, I find myself longing for a pared-down simplicity. Yes I appreciate the beauty in a well-appointed mantel, I delight at lights glittering on a tree, I breathe in the scent of fresh pine, and I relish in the joy of friends and family gathering together, but I long for less Santa, less pomp, less fuss and more of the baby in a manger.
Because the only cure for the disappointment caused by the intersection of high expectations and our daily reality is to focus on the intersection of grace and sin through the person of a baby born in a Bethlehem stable. So this year I’m trying to focus more on the heart of the matter and less on the materials. Yes, I have holiday-inspired posts coming your way, but they’re meaningless if this heart attitude isn’t the priority. We’re still doing a fun activity-focused advent calendar with the kids because I love to see their faces light up, but we’re also reading Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift at dinner. It’s a bit over the five-year-old’s head, and the three-year-old wiggles out of her chair and asks to be excused … but it’s God’s word penetrating our hearts and it’s a disciplined commitment to turn toward Christ in anxious expectation of a shining star and his manger arrival.
If we get caught up in the striving to make CHRISTmas perfect, we’ll miss CHRIST. Because at its core, Christmas is really the antithesis of perfection. After all, a perfect world doesn’t need a Savior, a broken world does. Christmas is about God’s son taking on flesh to be born into a filthy stable. He was wrapped in dirty clothes and laid in an animal feed trough. The awaited Savior arrived in a package nobody expected, and salvation came to sinful people through a means no one could imagine. He is redemption for a broken world, grace for imperfect people. And that, my friends, is worth celebrating, today, tomorrow, on December 25 and for a lifetime.
What do you think? How are you keeping your focus on Christ during this season, dear friends?