Another Christmas has come and gone. The new toys have been put away and the old toys have been cleared out. The leftovers from Christmas dinner have all been eaten. Our tree and decorations have been taken down and returned to the garage. We’ve already celebrated the next holiday and are looking forward to what the new year will bring. It’s interesting how a day that we put so much preparation into seems to pass by so quickly. But before we completely leave the holiday season behind, I feel the need to stop and reflect on what took place while it is still fresh in my mind.
This year was unique for our family. We usually travel out of state to visit relatives, but we made the choice to stop traveling and start spending Christmas in our own home. While we truly cherish time with our extended families, we’ve had the desire to slow things down at Christmas time, to make time for rest, and to figure out our own traditions. We were excited for what this Christmas season would look like. But with all my hopes and expectations, I found myself on Christmas Eve in tears because I was tired and overwhelmed and didn’t feel like the season had lived up to what I wanted.
As I began to reflect on what I was feeling and why, I realized that part of my problem was competing and unrealistic expectations. I wanted to slow down but I also wanted to do a lot of activities that would make this season stand out from the rest of the year. I wanted to rest but I also put the pressure on myself to make sure that everyone around me was happy. I wanted to figure out our traditions but I realized that traditions are not formed in one year. They develop over time as we try new things and discover what works for us.
Why is it that we put so much pressure on this holiday and on this season? Why do we expect it to be so magical? We get so caught up in what we think the holiday “should” look like, whether that’s based on how it’s looked in the past or the vision that’s been shaped by what we see in movies and on social media. But just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean that our normal lives stop. People still get sick. Children still whine and fight. Relationships are still broken.
We often try to curate the picture-perfect celebration of an event that was far from perfect. Everything about the birth of Christ was unexpected. Without a doubt, God planned and orchestrated the whole thing, but for those who experienced it, they never would have expected that it would unfold like it did. Mary and Joseph didn’t expect Mary to become pregnant while she was a virgin. They probably didn’t expect to give birth while far from home. They didn’t expect to deliver the Messiah in a stable among the animals. They didn’t expect to be visited by shepherds and wise men they had never met. They didn’t expect to have to flee in order to keep their baby king alive. God blessed this couple with the amazing task to bring his Son into the world and raise him up, but they could never have imagined the pain and trials that would come with it.
And yet, I am encouraged and challenged by Mary’s response to all of the unplanned circumstances in her life. We read Mary’s words in Luke – “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (1:38). And later, we read that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in heart” (2:19). What a beautiful response from someone who has just had her life turned upside down. Amidst the challenges that she most certainly faced, she chose gratitude and joy. She chose to see the beauty in the imperfections. She chose to trust God’s goodness even when it didn’t look like what she expected or even wanted.
Jesus didn’t stop the earth from spinning when he entered the world. He didn’t come in with a parade. He didn’t turn life into a fairy tale. Instead, he entered quietly and humbly into a broken world. He entered amidst the challenges and struggles of our imperfect lives. He came, not with shiny new gadgets or toys, but with the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love that we can receive no matter the situations we find ourselves in. This is what Christmas is all about.
My hope for not just next Christmas but for the year to come is that I will learn to accept life as it is – not to settle or become complacent – but to recognize the goodness and beauty in the ordinary things of life and even in the struggles. I deeply value living with intention, but I’m learning that it’s also important to let go of what I think is best and embrace life as it comes. Perhaps it’s in the midst of the unexpected that we experience Jesus the most.