This one comes with the sounds of tearing paper and children’s delighted squeals still ringing in my ears. This one comes with sweet flavors of Christmas treats still lingering on my tongue. This one comes with bits of paper and ribbon still on the floor.
This one comes with a heart full of family and laughter and the joy of giving and receiving. This one comes with Christmas carols still hummed under my breath. And children in new clothes. And new treasured toys resting in their new spaces in our home. This one comes with heart still pumping the magic of Christmas through my veins.
This one comes with Christmas lights still twinkling in the corner of my eye, and sparks of anxiety and too-much-ness of the season still trying to make a mess of me. We made it through Christmas day. We made sweet memories and everyone had something to open, and our bodies and home survived the chaos.
But the photos that tell a story of how we lived the idyllic front of a Christmas card – they don’t tell the whole story…
Because Christmas in real life means your Advent devotional comes with potty breaks and baby’s cries.
Christmas in real life means your two-year-old thinks that baby Jesus is just “really cute” and that must be why we can’t stop talking about him.
Christmas in real life means that you spend the morning preparing for the perfect Christmas-y outing only to realize that you drove away from the house with that perfectly packed bag sitting on the counter.
Christmas in real life means that any attempts to simplify or buy less leave us feeling like the salmon swimming upstream, getting bloodied with all the “What is Santa bringing YOU?” and “What’s on your Christmas list?” and “What do you WANT for Christmas?”
And Christmas in real life means wrestling with wanting all the magic for your children but wondering when Christmas became all about ME and all the stuff I want? Wondering how to teach them to be grateful…to be givers.
Christmas in real life means that all the magic comes alongside head and heart swirling with friends grieving lost ones and a divided nation and Syrian mamas just like me, desperate to cover their precious ones under their wings.
Christmas in real life means that the good news of Christ’s coming hasn’t quite reached the spaces in your soul where there is pain and loss, loneliness, heartbreak, or broken dreams.
This one comes with a heaviness that even the magic of Christmas is hard to embrace as the world spins another day with all it’s heaviness and weariness. And I sometimes find myself envying the innocence of my children, and the purity of their joy and delight.
This one comes with waves of sinking condemnation wondering if my children missed the point – if we did it all wrong. If we gave too many gifts, or the wrong ones. If we did enough to help the poor. If we spent too much money. If we did too much Santa. If they saw too much of my stress and not enough of my presence through the season of Advent. If they would have been happier just to have me, and not so much of the cookies and the crafts and the gifts and the decorations and the perfect photos.
Christmas in real life means you sometimes question the things you’re teaching your children, about how Jesus came to bring peace and freedom, light and love, grace and truth. And most of the gift of teaching them is in allowing them to teach it back to you.
And the lie of the camera and trying to live out the idyllic, tidied-up front of the Christmas card is not so much that it is too good, it’s that it’s not good enough. That picturesque scene doesn’t reach down to the broken parts of my soul – truthfully, it either makes me feel like a failure or makes me feel like a fraud. The perfect Christmas doesn’t capture the story of our real God who cares about our real lives and came down into the mess to shine light into our darkness and speak life into our dead places.
Jesus didn’t come to speak into the picturesque Christmas. The truth of the nativity is that it was dirty and smelly and uncomfortable. And I think the truth of God’s Christmas story is that that’s the point. He gets it. He sees us. He’s not fooled by our perfect Instagram post. He knows that our hearts need more answers than how many “likes” we get. He knows that being loved for our tidied up best doesn’t heal our wounds of rejection, and questions of our worth.
We need to be known in our mess and loved in our mess to know love at all.
And our God knows that our deepest desire is not for a perfect Christmas tree, but for a perfect Savior…who died messy on a tree so that we could live. He knows that our heart’s cry is not for a perfect family photo, but for a perfect love that covers over all of our ugliness.
Jesus didn’t come to be born in a stable so that the nativity scene would make the perfect Christmas card, he came small and messy to be the answer to our real, messy, smelly and sometimes tragic lives.
On my real life Christmas morning, there were moments of pure joy and delight. And moments when someone peed on the floor.
On my real life Christmas morning, children squealed and ran to give hugs of gratitude upon opening a gift. And children fought and cried over liking each other’s gifts better than their own.
On my real life Christmas morning, we all got dressed in our best red and green. And the baby spit up all over my first two outfits.
On my real life Christmas morning, the big kids enjoyed a lip-smacking batch of French toast while the toddler got ahold of a pack of gum, from which she ate several pieces with the wrapper on, choked, and threw up all over my purse and a pile of clean laundry. You won’t see that one on a Christmas card…
I could so easily let the messy moments disappoint me or take away from what Christmas is “supposed to be.” Or I can let the messy moments shift my focus to see that Christmas was never supposed to just be pretty.
Don’t get me wrong…I love the beauty of white lights lining a home, or the gold and red ornaments on a tree. I love the elegance of a poinsettia, and the way a Christmas carol warms my soul. These are sweet gifts of beauty that symbolize the true and deep beauty of the season. But the truth is our lives don’t tidy up for a perfect Christmas Day. We still get stomach aches, and we grieve lost loved ones, and we change diapers, and kids throw tantrums. And the real beauty of Christmas is that is the world that Jesus chose to enter into with us.
The sweetness of the messy moments is that God spoke straight to them by leaving his throne to sleep in a manger surrounded by smelly animals.
The magic of Christmas is not that it’s pretty, but that it lets us be ugly. It’s not that it’s tidy, but that it lets us be messy. The magic is that God took on flesh and chose to live our real life alongside of us to become our perfect rescuer, who knows and understands our weakness and our struggle and our mess. This is the true magic of Christmas.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4: 16)