My life is messy. I’d bet real money that yours is, too, and that admitting this to each other is, at once, the most difficult and most freeing thing any two people can do. So here, I’ll go first: I’m a mess. My schedule is insane, I never seem to be able to get everything on my list knocked out, and even though I’ve gotten pretty good at making it seem like it’s all under control, if you were to peek through my front door right now, you’d see first-hand evidence…of the mess.
I got the tree out a few weeks ago, along with all the decorations, and I spent a Sunday afternoon decking the halls. I strung the lights, I hung the ornaments. I put the red and green table runner on my dining room table along with my gold angels and glittery Noel sign. I arranged the garland and advent calendar on top of the piano and hung last year’s Hope…Peace…Joy sign from the hook beside the front door. Sounds pretty, right? It is. If you turn off all of the lamps and squint your eyes until everything looks real blurry. What I didn’t tell you was: there are no less than 5 coloring books lying in various places on the living room floor, anywhere from six to ten magic markers and/or their lids lurking about and miscellaneous bits of yarn, ribbon and glitter randomly peppering my dining room rug. And how about the ten quilts and blankets that I haven’t found a good place for now that I’m using the hall closet to hide Olivia’s still unwrapped Christmas presents? Did I mention those? And the pile of six weeks’ worth of mail on my kitchen counter? Did I tell you about that?
My house spends the year in some sort of disarray, but for some reason, on December 1, I begin to shudder each time I walk in the door and see anything but glittery perfection. What is it about Christmas that makes us think we can’t begin the celebration unless the house is – and we are – spotless? And this refusal to celebrate, it isn’t just about holding up a party. No. We actually refuse to turn our hearts toward love, to extend forgiveness, to show mercy, to hand out grace…because we can’t get that wreath to hang up just so and our cookies are burned and there’s just not enough time to get it all done. I mean, really, who did this to us? Was it advertising? Movies? Currier & Ives?
Or have we done it to ourselves?
Oh, how needlessly we take it all on. These unrealistic expectations we live with all year round, they morph every December until we’re maniacally driven by this wild fear of never being enough. I loved what Sarabeth said on Sunday: when is it ever enough at Christmastime? So many years I’ve approached this season with a mysterious sense of dread, of feeling like I’ve failed before I’ve even begun, and I realized this year: I’m just picking up where I left off. I end each Christmas season with regrets: I didn’t make it to this party, didn’t manage to get my hands on that gift, didn’t remember to hang that ornament, didn’t, didn’t, didn’t…
Enough already! And I mean that literally. Here are the facts: I did not manage to perfect myself in 2011. Didn’t lose those last 10 pounds, didn’t tackle that home improvement project, didn’t teach my toddler to read, didn’t learn how to change the oil in my car, didn’t write a book (or even get started), and I didn’t overcome every defect in my character. I’ve spent the last 346 days much like I’ve spent the 11,000 before them: fully human. Flawed. And I think you probably did, too.
But I’ve also spent the last 346 days redeemed. Because on an especially holy night, a Savior was born to us. In the city of David. David, the man after God’s own heart, whose sin betrayed God’s own heart. In this David’s city, the Christ child appeared for the first time. And the angels made this glorious announcement to shepherds. Stinky shepherds in a field. I’m pretty sure those shepherds didn’t go home and shower before they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Because there was something – Someone – more important at hand than the mistakes of the past, than lowly life positions and grungy clothes. The Savior was born. Redemption was nigh, and they had been invited to see it firsthand.
And I’m the miser counting up my love, my joy, and miserably putting it back in the safe until next year, when maybe I’ll have enough to spend.
I can’t help but return to the passage in I John – we love because He first loved us. So this year, I’m taking a chance. I’m admitting that conditions are as ideal as they’re ever going to be, and that what matters is not how clean my house is or how many batches of cookies I bake or how successful I’ve been this year at anything…that Jesus didn’t wait for humanity to get its act together before He came to save us, and my mess doesn’t scare Him one bit. My mess, your mess, our mess – it’s why we needed Emmanuel, why we needed a Love that could conquer the mess. A Love that conquers all.
So when I walk through my front door tonight, I’m going to breathe. I’m going to let the tree remind me of Love and I’ll happily let the clutter remind me of what it conquers: All.
And isn’t that the glorious truth that our hearts long to celebrate? Father, give our eyes the courage to see it fresh…
This Christmas season at FN, we’ve decided to join into the Advent Conspiracy. As a part of celebrating together, we’ve asked several people to write about each week’s topic here on our blog. And we’d like for you to join in too: share your reactions, plans, or experiences in the comments. Or, if you post on your own blog, leave a link in the comments. Post pictures to our Facebook wall. Tweet us @fellowshipnorth. Let’s use our online space as a community – one that will conspire together this Christmas season!