As we gather tonight, I suspect some of us are fidgeting and fretting about holiday tasks that are left undone. One survey I read noted that 74% of consumers leave their Christmas shopping to the last minute. That means no doubt that there are many of us, on the final notes of Silent Night or Joy to the World, are planning a mad dash to Target, cranking up the coffee for a late-night spree of wrapping gifts, stuffing stockings, or dashing to the store to buy last minute ingredients for the Christmas meal. Does this ring true for anyone?
To make matters worse, the resurgence of COVID the emergence of the omicron variant makes our lives more complicated. Some of us are or know someone who is or has been sick. For the second year in a row, we won’t be seeing the extended cousins from Connecticut and Washington State. Some of us have to scale down festivities due to illness or financial distress. There is the real fear that we might be returning to sheltering in place in the new year. Ill health, even death has touched our lives this year. Some people have shared with me that they are tired, sad and not feeling the same old jolly spirit, yet feel forced to put on a brave face. We’re not out of the woods yet, are we?
Yet here we are. Christmas eve. We bring so many expectations to Christmas. A lot of people go into debt and endure a lot of stress to provide for that picture-perfect scenario. It reminds me of a Christmas where we had purchased all these wonderful toys for Andrew when he had just turned 1 years old. What did he end up playing with for most of the morning? An empty apple juice bottle. I have to remind myself even today, 30 years later, that what I bring to the manger tonight is enough. We are enough, you and I, just as we are.
All the pressures and uncertainties we face cannot keep God from being born in our lives this night. Nothing can keep him away. It is good for us to pause and reflect on this and let it sink in. The reason we tell ourselves the nativity story over and over is to remind us that Mary and Joseph had a far-from perfect experience with Jesus’ birth. Imagine about ready to give birth, having to travel 90 miles from your hometown, 9 months pregnant riding a donkey on a bumpy road, traveling 4-5 days only to find the inns are all filled up. No space. Just the barn with the animals. Is that a way for the Son of God to be born? Why did God allow this?
God could have chosen a palace with wonderful amenities. God could have chosen a time when the census wasn’t being taken, travel wasn’t necessary and Jesus could have been surrounded with loving extended family. God could have chosen a place that wasn’t under foreign occupation and social unrest. Yet God chose to come to us in Jesus in difficult and scary circumstances, so we can understand, as our anxiety and fear or anger go through the roof, we don’t have to hold it together. We just have to let God hold us. The manger is a reminder that we are loved, you and I, just as we are. We are good enough.
What you have done, what you have to offer is enough. Nothing you do can make God love you even more. If you come away from tonight with only this message that God loves you – just as you are – not for anything you have done – it will be enough. Nothing you say can stop Jesus from taking you in his arms and hugging you – no worries about social distancing there!
This is a holy night, a precious night, a night filled with love, because God made it so. Not us. We had nothing to do with it. Instead of rushing to create a perfect Christmas, let Christmas rush in to create the perfect, imperfect you and me. You are enough. Rich or poor. Young or old. Sick or healthy. Tired or charged with energy. Filled with regret or at peace. Filled with faith or doubt. Sadness or joy. Or perhaps all of it, one big mess. As we sit with our longings, hopes and fears, let the peace of this imperfectly perfect moment fill you and me.
So let us relax and be at peace. If just for the moment. Jesus has it all covered. Be assured that Jesus loves you, just as you are. A MERRY BLESSED CHRISTMAS to all!