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Summary: We spend a lot of time and energy striving after perfection, particularly around Christmas-time, but life is not about staying safe and living comfortably. The call to follow Jesus is a call to give your life to him and to join God’s mission in healing th

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Every year beginning just after Thanksgiving, all the major networks and many of the cable channels start showing Christmas movies in the evenings and throughout the day. The Christmas movie selection is usually pretty predictable; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, and so on. Over the years, I imagine, we’ve just about seen them all, and we probably all have a favorite. One of my favorites is Christmas Vacation starring Chevy Chase. How many of you have seen Christmas Vacation? The movie has certainly become a holiday favorite for many besides just me! We cannot help but laugh at this simple parody of the false expectations that we build up around the traditional family Christmas experience. I imagine that many of us can identify with the character Clark Griswold, who does everything in his power to give his family the gift of a “perfect” Christmas.

The movie begins with Clark taking his family into the wilderness in search of the perfect Christmas tree. After a road rage accident that sends the Griswolds careening into a snow bank, they set off on foot. A lengthy march in the snow leads to the perfect tree, and also the discovery that Clark forgot to bring a saw. From wrestling with strands of Christmas lights that don’t work to suffering extended visits from difficult relatives, the Griswolds bear experience after experience that would prompt most of us to say, “Been there, done that!” For example, how many of us have had that wonderful Yuletide experience of trying to assemble a bicycle at 2 a.m. on Christmas morning, only to figure out that we probably should have just paid the assembly fee? Like Clark, our intentions to plan a “good, old-fashioned, family Christmas” may not always live up to our ideal, or to what the pictures, movies, and marketing, have made it out to be. But then again, those visions of Christmas often replace the biblical meaning of “God with us.” And what a shame if they do. Because after weeks of preparation, all for the purpose of creating a perfect day in an imperfect year, someone will probably be upset because they didn’t get the present they wanted, a toy is already broken, Grandpa drank too much, and Grandma got run over by a reindeer!

It’s pretty sad, really. Our insatiable desire for something that so often evades us. The constant search for Christmas perfection often ends up making things even worse and less perfect than they might have been if we hadn’t been trying so hard. So we come through a stressful Christmas holiday with not much to show for it except for a feeling of disappointment. It’s all quite ironic when you consider the fact that the most perfect Christmas there ever was had all the makings of a complete disaster. But we have managed to forget even that, often sanitizing Christmas by taking Jesus’ birth out of its true biblical and historical context.

Have you looked at a Christmas card lately? They portray these peaceful settings where “the cattle are lowing” right next to “the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.” Yeah right! It’s almost laughable. Jesus was born in a stable, a cave where animals were kept. And wherever animals are kept there is, well, you know…which means that it would have smelled bad. And there were probably flies everywhere. The animals were most certainly restless with these three strangers in their midst. Mary was surely a sweaty, exhausted [hot] mess. Joseph was probably pacing nervously, and the little baby Jesus was likely balling his eyes out itching with the hay sticking to him and making adjustments to this new world outside of his mother’s womb. I could go on, but you get the point; Christmas is pretty messy, and certainly not perfect!

In the first Chapter of Luke we see how complicated the situation of Jesus coming into the world is. “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” How emotionally prepared do you suppose Mary, just a teenager, was for this life experience?

Gabriel said to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” What part of “do not be afraid” do you suppose Mary didn’t understand? Do you think the thought ever crossed her mind that her parents might not believe her explanation? And, of course, we already know from Matthew’s gospel that her fiancé, Joseph, rejected her explanations. By all appearances, the whole ordeal was nothing but a huge mess.

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