A good, not perfect, Christmas
This year has been a painful experience for people in many parts of the world. For example: Christchurch was wrecked by a terrible earthquake, the folk of Japan were devastated by a tsunami, recently the people of the Philippines were inundated by severe flooding and many asylum seekers drowned when their boat overturned.
And of course, Christchurch has been struck again by earthquakes; and Darwin may be hit by another Christmas cyclone.
It’s not been easy right here either. The floods last January left their mark in many ways. Those directly affected lost precious possessions and even homes. Some people lost their lives. The community rallied, and people showed that they could care. But even now, there are homes as yet unlived in since the floods. There are people scarred by depression. There are people who won’t go away this summer because they prefer to stay around their home. Just in case.
2011 has not been the easiest year.
Now Christmas is here, and we can forget all that. It’s a good thing to have a celebration, and Christmas gives us a celebration that’s as regular as clockwork. It’s always good to see the joy on children’s faces and perhaps recall our own Christmas memories.
Christmas is here, and it’s good. But you know, one of the things we often tell ourselves is that Christmas must not only be ‘good’; it must be perfect. Perfect meal, perfectly behaved kids, perfect gifts for people who—well…aren’t perfect. All this in times that are not perfect.
2011 has been a tougher year than most. It seems to me that quite a few people’s energy levels are still not as high as normal. But we may yet carry this feeling inside that Christmas must be perfect—and if it’s not perfect, then somehow it’s all our fault. But we can sometimes drive ourselves too hard to achieve perfection.
I was inspired recently by reading something Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said on the BBC. He was speaking into an economic situation over there that is quite grim. It’s so good I want to read you what he said:
You know how every year you say, ‘This year I’m going to get Christmas sorted out. I’ll have the cards written by December the first and I’ll work our properly what we can afford and do the presents in time, and I’ll know exactly how many people are coming for meals and when, and…all the rest of it. Lurking somewhere in our minds is the idea of the Perfect Christmas (probably with snow, only not the kind that closes down airports and messes up our travel plans).
And every year, mysteriously, all our plans seem to evaporate and it’s the usual mess, with all the last minute panic. There’ll be a good few people concerned just now about what they can afford for a start.
Yet it’s odd in a way, this business of Perfect Christmasses. The story of the first Christmas is the story of a series of completely unplanned, messy events—a surprise pregnancy, an unexpected journey that’s got to be made, a complete muddle over the hotel accommodation when you get there…Not exactly a perfect holiday.
But it tells us something really vital. We try to plan all this stuff and stay in charge, and too often (especially with advertisers singing in our ears the whole time) we think that unless we can cook the perfect dinner, plan the perfect wedding, organise the perfect Christmas, we somehow don’t really count or we can’t hold our heads up.
But in the complete mess of the first Christmas, God says, ‘Don’t worry—I’m not going to wait until you’ve got everything sorted out perfectly before I get involved with you. I’m already there for you in the middle of it all, and if you just let yourself lean on me a bit instead of trying to make yourself and everything around you perfect by your own efforts, everyone will feel a little more of my love flowing’.
I’m never sure whether to wish anyone a peaceful Christmas, because it hardly ever is. But I can wish you joy in the midst of the mess, and every blessing from the God of ordinary, untidy, surprising things.
That’s why I love the Noisy Night film clip we began with. It wasn’t like a perfect Christmas card scene. The first Christmas was noisy! And I love the film clip we saw a few minutes ago of the little girl singing her little heart out for Jesus—way off-key! Perfection isn’t required.
So don’t worry if your Christmas isn’t perfect. Let it be good enough—God doesn’t need perfection. God has come among us and shared with us the messiness of life; and what’s more, God loves us imperfect as we are, and asks only for our love in return. Amen.