Summary: But even though we know that life is never that perfect, we get so focused on how everything appears perfect and that bleeds into our lives as we begin to yearn for the perfect life and this time of year, the perfect Christmas.
Giving Up The Perfect Christmas?
Debbie Macomber writes in her book, “The Perfect Christmas” about receiving a Christmas card a week before Thanksgiving from a college friend, named Jill. Jill had married her college sweetheart two weeks before they graduated. They now have a boy and a girl who are both adorable. The Christmas card photo showed all four of them in matching red and green outfits, the mother and daughter with full green skirts and red and plaid shirts and the father and son in 3 piece suits with vests matching the lady’s shirts. After reading their enclosed letter, it appeared that everything was absolutely perfect in their lives. Jill was a successful financial planner, kept a meticulous house and still managed to be a terrific mother and wife. And inside the letter was another photo of Jill’s new home they had just purchased and moved into and it was, well, perfect. Have you been there? We’ve all received those types of Christmas letters painting a picture of how everything is so wonderful in our friends and family’s lives.
But even though we know that life is never that perfect, we get so focused on how everything appears perfect and that bleeds into our lives as we begin to yearn for the perfect life and this time of year, the perfect Christmas. This causes us to fall into the trap of what Cynthia Ewer calls “The Ghost of Christmas Perfection.” We build up such high hopes and expectations for Christmas that we will have all of our shopping done early, the season will be so well planned it will be stress-free, we will have the perfect gift bought for everyone and the perfect meal where everything is cooked to perfection and comes together at the appointed time. The problem is these are unrealistic expectations for any gathering, let alone Christmas.
There was another person 2000 years ago who along with his wife had high hopes for the perfect Christmas. His name is Joseph and he only appears three times in the Scriptures. The first is in our Scripture today where Matthew tells us Mary and Joseph are engaged, but before they lived together. Like most young couples have great dreams of life together and of starting a family. As was the custom of the day, the prospective groom would go to the home of the prospective bride and negotiate with her father to determine the price that he must pay to marry her. Once agreed upon, the marriage covenant was established, and the young man and woman were regarded to be husband and wife. As a symbol of the covenant, the groom and bride would drink from a cup of wine over which a betrothal benediction had been pronounced. Then the groom would return home to his father's house and begin building an addition onto the house in which he and his wife would live. Homes were one room, usually 15’ by 15’ and multi-purpose where kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom were all the same space. Joseph would build his home in the evenings after his regular work hours. This is one reason why the groom and bride would remain separate for a period of 12 months so the home could be finished before the wedding ceremony. And so Joseph has been hard at work for months preparing a place to live for his new bride and certainly in the process thinking and dreaming about married life together and of course, starting a family.
There are three things we learn from Joseph’s experience of the first Christmas. First is the experience of Christmas is sacrifice and pain of following God. That’s a strange thing to focus on at Christmas because we think good thoughts and have warm and fuzzy feelings when considering the Christ child. But amidst all of Joseph’s hopes and dreams, Matthew drops a bombshell: Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” In that moment, his hopes for a perfect Christmas were suddenly destroyed. Matthew then tells us that Joseph is a righteous man, meaning he is obedient to God, is fulfilling and living by the law and thus, is in good standing with God. But this righteous man discovers that his engaged wife is pregnant! Can you imagine what Joseph was feeling when he discovered this? Our Scripture says Joseph “considered this” which in the Greek can be translated two ways. First is that he pondered what to do. But the second meaning is “he became very upset.” The only other time this word is used in the New Testament is in Luke’s story of the wisemen where Herod is enraged after discovering the wise men left Bethlehem without informing him where the Christ child was. Kenneth Bailey suggests that a more accurate translation might be “while he (Joseph) fumed over this matter.”