I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. I love the songs, the sights, the smells, and the gatherings of friends and family. All those things make it feel like—well—like Christmas. It’s somewhat addictive. However, I hate the self-imposed, perfectionist demands. I’m older. It’s harder. I become a prickly nag. I’m not lazy, simply weary of doing things that are unnecessary in my pursuit of the perfect Christmas.
In my driven (and imaginary) world, the house is perfect. The mantle is worthy of the cover of a magazine, the twelve dozen holiday cookies are packaged beautifully and ready for delivery, Christmas dinner emerges effortlessly from the oven, and tables sparkle with china for twenty-five people.
But there is little room in this high decibel scene for Jesus—and that’s outrageous since there is Christ in Christmas.
The Christmas push began before Halloween with ornaments and greenery in the aisle beside the Halloween masks. There is pressure to get into the tidal wave and go with the flow. But I wanted something different. How can I love my family and serve them well (and I do love them so) and still experience the “silent night, holy night” of the Christmas and Advent season? How can I be more like the animals peering over the edge of the manger, snuggling up close to Jesus? How do I have a Mary-heart in the Martha-world of Christmas?
If you’re waiting for an answer, I don’t have one. Last year I reduced my baking, and refused to do some decorating, but that doesn’t handle the root problem—my addictions to attaining Christmas perfection and my need to please.
Whenever I find space for solitude during this season, I am deeply moved by the incarnation. Thinking on the impossibility of this miracle leaves me breathless. When I see the incomprehensible God becoming more comprehensible by entering humanity through the womb of a virgin, I am moved to worship. Eternal Glory wrapped himself in skin and invaded our broken world so he could do glorious things on our behalf.
The purpose of the incarnation wasn’t to create a longer list of things we need to do right. I receive credit for having done everything correctly—at least before God. When I trust Christ to give me His righteousness, I can stand blameless and shameless before him and others with my imperfectly decorated tree, my dirty bathroom, and my unfinished Christmas cards. I don’t HAVE to do it all—I don’t have to do ANY of it. I can be like Mary and sit at Jesus’ feet and let the chaos proceed without me.
However, if I do this, “Martha” will jump on my back and accuse. She might be the Martha within saying, “You must use china.” She might be a family member reminding me, “I loooove lemon snaps.” Martha might even be the imagined voice of a family member creating fear, “What will happen if you break tradition?” However, if I take the shame, it will not be because Christ puts it on me.
When I read these words to my daughter, she said it was depressing. (Oops, I have created another Christmas-tradition addict). Her helpful response, though, was, “Mom, use paper plates and plastic cups. Bake the turkey in a foil pan and throw it out. I’ll help you.”
Whatever happens, this Christmas monkey has got to go (by the grace of God). I know it’s not HIS monkey; he took the monkeys away at Calvary. Father, help my bold, joy-filled celebration and labor this Christmas be a response to YOUR love and for love’s sake. Help me get this monkey off my back!
(I wrote this in October, and I have been faithful to spend more time reading and praying. It has been a good season of reflection. Christmas Eve is here, and until now, I’ve been less absorbed with making things perfect. Martha’s biting on the back of my neck, though. I’m feeling old addictions rise. Lord, please help me have a Mary heart today and tomorrow.)