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05 December

The “Perfect Christmas”

Before we had children, it didn’t matter to me for some reason. I would have celebrated Christmas at a dirt track if that’s where we happened to be. But once we had children, I found myself dreaming about a perfect Christmas.

My perfect Christmas didn’t have to have snow on the ground, although that would have helped, but everyone would get up early, though not too early. They would gladly wait to open presents while drinking coffee/hot chocolate. The kids would be quiet while we read the Christmas story (or maybe even acted it out). We would have a time of prayer and thanksgiving around the tree. Everyone in the family would enjoy the food, spontaneously burst into carols, and get along. And most importantly, we would be at home.

Are you laughing yet? Because the perfect Christmas never happens.

Like most girls, Mary, the mother of Jesus, probably imagined starting her own little family. Living in Nazareth, near her mother, sisters, aunts, and cousins, she would have enjoyed plenty of support and know-how for that scary labor-and-delivery…plus the even scarier first days at home with a newborn. But after a low-key marriage with no wedding-night intimacy, she got none of that. Instead, Joseph—a carpenter and a man (in a time when men didn’t know anything about babies)—yes, Joseph helped her deliver her baby in a stranger’s barn in a town miles away from her family. Then, the only people to visit her were a bunch of smelly shepherds (again, all men).

No one would call that a perfect scenario. No one dreams of living like that.

I don’t compare myself to Mary, but I think we still (even after all these years) have much to learn from her. Nothing in her life turned out like she anticipated, but she found contentment anyway. Mary traded a quiet existence for the quite extraordinary Emmanuel.

When I dream of some ideal Christmas, I put stress on myself and my family to live up to my unrealistic expectations. I end up disappointed, and my family ends up frustrated. Plus, I do something God never does with us: anticipate earthly perfection.

We travel every year at Christmas, and it usually rains. We invariably duplicate or royally miss it on someone’s gift. The cousins get in an argument…or three. Some distant relative gets offended. The food gets cold before we can gather everyone to eat. Some years (and I’m just being honest here), no one even mentions Jesus until after the wrapping paper is in the recycling bin and the cookie tray is down to crumbs.

But this year, I’m asking God to help me be okay with that. I’m trying to remember that even the first Christmas wasn’t ideal, and Mary, the first mother to observe Christmas, probably wasn’t too happy about how it went either. I mean, straw and shepherds? Really?

What counts—for Mary and for me—is the result of that first Christmas. Even though our plans may fall by the wayside, the perfect plan of God’s perfect son incarnating imperfect human flesh went exactly as planned.

And that’s enough.
Question for Reflection: What Christmas expectations do you need to reexamine? What can you release so that everyone—especially yourself—has a more peaceful Christmas?


Carole Sparks has celebrated Christmas in three countries and several states since she got married, but she’s still a sucker for Tender Tennessee Christmas. Sorry, but she hopes it doesn’t snow because, as usual, she’ll be travelling between grandparents those days. You might find her on social media (Twitter, Facebook, her blog) this month just because she needs an excuse to get some peace and quiet.

Carole, five days before Christmas last year.

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