Did you have a picture perfect Christmas this year? You know, the kind of Christmas you could put on a Hallmark Card. The tree was big and beautiful. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care. The whole family was together – laughing, smiling and playing games. The ham or turkey was cooked to perfection. The table was impeccable. The kids quietly played with their new toys.
The truth is we rarely have picture perfect Christmases. Maybe not everyone made it home this year. The baby was sick. The kids were glued to their electronics. You didn’t get all your decorations up. You had to work on Christmas Eve. This was your first Christmas without grandma.
Yet we still yearn for picture perfect Christmases. We desperately want the Hallmark Card. We want the peaceful, beautiful Christmas we imagine the first Christmas to be.
You know, Mary and Joseph smiling peacefully. Jesus quietly sleeping in the manger. Shepherds gently kneeling nearby. Cows lowing in the background as angels quietly sing, “Sleep in heavenly peace.”
We yearn for that peace. We long for that picture perfect Christmas. But that isn’t what we get. That isn’t real. That isn’t even the reality of the first Christmas.
The reality of that first Christmas is a fourteen or fifteen year old girl, a long way from home and very pregnant. She had traveled for days, probably riding on a donkey, being nine months pregnant.
Then they get there and the tiny little village of Bethlehem was busting at the seams. It wasn’t quiet. It was packed. There was no room, so they ended up in a back room or stable where the animals were kept.
Having a baby is hard enough, but imagine having baby in a barn. This wasn’t peaceful. There was sweat and screams and blood. The baby came out as all babies do – slimy and gross. They didn’t have any blankets. This was a stable after all. They wrapped him in rags and laid him in a feeding trough, in the prickly, uncomfortable hay.
That’s not what we usually see on Hallmark cards, but that’s the reality of Jesus’s birth. It was loud and crowded and uncomfortable.
God doesn’t promise us picture perfect Christmases or picture perfect lives here on earth. What he promises us is a picture perfect heaven. That’s why God humbled himself to be born in a barn. That’s why he came to this earth, to pay for all the ugliness which flows from our hearts and minds and mouths.
The true joy and peace of Christmas is not having a living Hallmark card in your living room. The true joy and peace of Christmas is knowing that because of that baby born in Bethlehem, God forgives us our less than picture perfect lives.
The true joy and peace of Christmas is knowing that no matter how ugly our lives get or how bad our hearts ache, we have a home waiting for us in a picture perfect heaven.