We live with a mixture of fantasy and reality in our understanding of Christmas. Our fantasy Christmas may include our home filled with attractive, respectable, well mannered, well-spoken, successful family members and friends who all get along and enjoy each others company, No one is mentally or physically ill, chemically dependent or unemployed. All have broad smiles and no harsh words are spoken or muttered!
There is a problem with this fantasy. It never happens this way. There are family members and friends who have died, can’t be there or don’t want to be there. Arguments, heated discussions or even fights may shatter our holiday celebration. If we seek a fantasy Christmas there will be frustration and disappointment. Someone or something will shatter our fantasy Christmas. Imperfection will rear its ugly head!
If we go back to the original Christmas we will find a reality filled with imperfection. Mary and Joseph had been forced by government bureaucracy to go to Bethlehem for the census. Pregnant Mary had traveled for days while near delivery. Not a single relative had a spare bedroom for them and there was not a vacant room to be found. An unsanitary barn became her child’s birthplace, and a manger her child‘s bed. Then there were unexpected visitors from the hills called shepherds and wild stories about angels filling the night sky with song. The people gathered around the manger were not perfect. But Christmas in the barn was real. The Baby Jesus is born. That manger opens the door for imperfect people like us. Christmas represents the gift of acceptance as we are.
If we try to accomplish the perfect Christmas by ourselves we burden ourselves with having to try harder and do more. But the harder we try to make things perfect the more frustrated we become.
The Good news of Jesus’ birth is an awkward surprise. God in Christ accepts us in our incompleteness and imperfection. We are loved as we are. God does not require us to be perfect. God only asks that we become rea — as real as the events in the Bethlehem stable — as real as His love.
What we need to do is remarkably simple: Put down the burden of the perfect Christmas and accept the freedom of the real Christmas. Christmas frees us to gather together as family and friends with people who have problems. We are imperfect people who can find surprising acceptance in the birth of the Christ Child.
May God bless our Christmas celebrations and ground them in the realities we face in our daily lives. We don’t need a perfect Christmas. But we do need a real Christmas where acceptance, love and forgiveness are offered and experienced. So forget the perfect Christmas and celebrate the real Christmas!
• Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, living in Juneau.