Ahh... the delightfully decorated trees…smiling children… fuzzy socks and twinkling lights. All shimmering in the flickering glow of a fireplace found perfectly garnished with greenery, stockings and dreams of what Christmas will bring.
These cozy scenes keep cropping up across Facebookland… and if that’s you… I’m happy for you.
And if I could bring myself to fudge the truth, perhaps I could stage a few scenes that would match those found scattered throughout Pinterest and Twitter. Maybe, just maybe I could convince you that this is exactly what took place within the four walls of the Carpenter home.
But alas… and I sigh.
In my corner of the world, few see the beauty of perfectly spaced ornaments, festive sweaters, and the calming harmonies of harp strings singing out the melodious notes of “Silent Night”. I am raising three boys after all. (My daughter is my only ally.)
Trust me, when raising boys there are no festive sweaters…. no steaming mugs of hot apple cider… no sweet pleasantries given and received while placing the star perfectly settled upon the highest bough.
Even our fireplace has failed me. It happens to be on wheels… and it needs an outlet.
The truth is, around our house the ornaments sat in a box for days on end until Mama Bear began using it as leverage.
“You want electronic time? Go hang twenty ornaments on the tree… then we’ll talk.”
“You hit your brother? That’s it, Buster – that’s twenty-five ornaments for you!” (“But mo-ooooom..”)
After three days, there were only a couple dozen left rolling around in the bottom of the box, so I called it good and shoved it in the crawl space to wait out the next several weeks until the Holidays are over.
I concur… it’s not what it could be. Maybe not even what it should be.
But it’s life. And it’s real…and perhaps just as memorable as any other picture-perfect holiday scene.
This season of life is busy, but tonight I finally took some time, dug out some fuzzy socks and settled in next to the tree. The star was crooked, but I ignored it as I asked child number three to roll the fireplace up next to me. The steaming mug of coffee brought a comforting warmth to my hands and in that moment, I discovered a beauty all it’s own.
True, Silent Night still couldn’t be heard over the din of the boys decking the halls. (No really… they tend to bang into the walls as they bump down the stairs on their worn out sleeping bags.) But, in spite of the chaos, I had to think… life doesn’t always happen like we think it could… not even always like traditions say it should… our tree trimming experience is proof of that.
But then there’s this messy thing called grace.
That unconventional gift all wrapped up with the Advent of Jesus.
See, Mary’s first Christmas wouldn’t have been one to brag about on Instagram. No professional photographer was there to capture the happy occasion… only an inexperienced, uncertain husband… and some cattle.
Smelly shepherds guests could never take the place of showing off baby to Grandma and Grandpa… and who among us would want to allow strangers from a strange land to conduct our firstborn’s baby shower?
That’s what it was.
Neither her surroundings, nor her possessions were the things which gave Mary joy.
It was the presence of one tiny Baby.
Her entire focus fell upon a Child who came with no other desire than to give a broken world the gift of His redeeming love… a love that looks beyond our crooked imperfections. A grace that sees beyond our failed traditions, broken dreams and messy lives.
He knows all our successes and all our failures. He knows what gets cropped out of the family photos –and He loves us anyway.
I finished my cup of coffee, and smiled. The star on top of the tree still leaned heavily towards the north, but I let it go.
It was placed there by the hands of a child - one of my own who isn’t yet tall enough to do it with perfection… and I love it. It’s my reminder, that comparison will never bring joy and contentment…. Those are the presents that can only be found within the presence of that tiny Christmas Baby.
The One Who came to cover our imperfections with His perfect gift called grace.