The Songs of Christmas ring through our ears and play in our cars and our homes every Christmas season. Two songs that made a deep impact on me this year are Andrew Peterson’s Labor of Love and Chris Rice’s Welcome to our World. Our traditional Christmas songs differ greatly from these two songs for as we sing of a Silent Night or Angels singing Gloria or about cattle lowing in Away in a Manger, our minds picture the perfect night: the perfect night of no clouds and stars shining brightly in a deep blue sky, the perfect night with Mary and Joseph smiling adoringly at their firstborn child, the perfect night with quiet animals realizing that God lay in the manger. We LOVE these songs but they paint a picture of perfection focusing on Jesus as God rather than the true picture of Jesus as human born in a first century parking garage (see Adam Hamilton’s “Not a Silent Night).
So while we enjoy our Christmas Songs this weekend, take time to listen to Labor of Love and Welcome to our World. I think these songs come closer to celebrating what really happened and moving us from celebrating perfection to celebrating imperfection. How many of our dreams about the Christmas holiday reflect our Christmas songs? Kids dressed perfectly with bow tie around the neck or hair in bows; extended family chatting pleasantly catching up on a year’s worth of activity; a table that looks like Martha Stewart came to visit; Christmas presents bought and wrapped weeks ahead of time.
And then our dreams are crushed by a 2 year old temper tantrum over the sparkly tights (from an 11 year old!); extended family who refuse to come because their feelings were hurt last year; the Christmas table with a hodge-podge of dishes that do not match because the Christmas china broke on the last move; tired parents remembering that they forgot to wrap Christmas gifts; a friend whose text just said that she lost her father this morning. As Chris Rice says, “Welcome to our World.”
The Perfect Christmas is not Gospel in fact stands in opposition to what happened on that silent night. If you will remember with me for a moment, Jesus came into our world at a less than perfect time in history to a less than perfect family in a less than perfect birthing room. The political climate was scary and made even more scary when Herod ordered the killing of all baby boys. The religious system was not any better. Religious leaders oppressed the people with excessive rules that demanded perfection or if not perfect then, a sacrifice to please God. The hope for a savior took many forms where some hoped for a political savior, some for a social worker savior to feed and heal the poor and the sick, and very few for a religious savior to usher in a new way to experience God. So many expectations. So many hopes and dreams. So much pressure on one little baby. Mary would tell us that her perfect birthing room would have been with all the women in her life supporting and offering her encouragement in a serene and loving environment but that was taken from her by the demanding journey to Bethlehem. Robbed of the ways women eased childbirth for the women in their lives, Mary gives birth surrounded by noisy animals where her fear of death during delivery was very real. Welcome to our World, Jesus.
I love seeing pictures of children in matching jammies and Christmas trees decorated by a paid interior decorator, but I am tired of losing focus on what it was like for Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. So this Christmas, I challenge myself to see Jesus in the imperfect. When the kids act crazy because they are all hopped up on sugar, Welcome to our World, Jesus! When the family gathering turns into an argument over politics, Welcome to our World, Jesus! When plans for a perfectly beautiful Christmas Eve and Christmas morning service do not meet my expectations (I am a minister planning carefully every detail!), Welcome to our World, Jesus! When I look at our Christmas dinner table and see the beautiful spread and then think about the families in Aleppo, Welcome to our World, Jesus!
Thank you, God, for the imperfect night where Jesus’ presence first touched our earth. Help me to not get caught up in the perfect Christmas but to find you gracing our imperfection. And so I sing, nope this imperfect being does not sing, but I dance to the words, “Tears are falling. Hearts are breaking. How we need to hear from God. You’ve been promised. We’ve been waiting……Bring your peace into our violence. Bid our hungry souls be fed. Word now breaking heaven’s silence……So wrap our injured flesh around you. Breathe our air and walk our sod…..Welcome to our World.”
Christmas 2006 after taking the “perfect” family Christmas picture!