Out of town family would be arriving soon and my eight-foot counter was covered with mixing bowls, baking pans, and kitchen utensils. I’d been cooking all day, and now it was time to clean up.
Except the sink wouldn't drain.
While we tried to locate a plumber to tackle the clog, Pioneer Woman kicked in. I hauled my dirty dishes to the bathroom. On my hands and knees, I scoured the bathtub, then scrubbed the dishes. A blast from the shower head rinsed the soapy pile.
Christmas wasn’t perfect that year.
Another year, I awakened on Christmas morning with the worst case of vertigo I’ve ever had. If I moved my eyes too quickly, my head spun. If I moved my body too quickly, my stomach heaved. And the smell of our family’s traditional holiday feast? I sequestered myself in the living room to get away from it.
Christmas wasn’t perfect that year, either.
Then there was the year I had to work on Christmas Eve. When I’d finally seen my last patient and said Happy Holidays to my coworkers, I jumped into my car, eager to begin the festivities. Maybe a little too eager.
As I headed home, I took a curve too quickly. A car, coming from the other direction, was dangerously close to the center line. I jerked the steering wheel to the right, over correcting, and hitting the curb—hard. Jumping out and hoping against hope, I peered around the front of the car to check my tire.
Flat as my hair after a rainstorm. Flat as a frog on an interstate. Flat as my spirits when I realized I’d be getting a tire for Christmas instead of something much more fun.
That Christmas wasn’t perfect, either.
The longer I live, the more I realize that perfect Christmases are something from a Hallmark movie, not real life. It’s no surprise, really, because real Christmases are never perfect.
Consider the first one—now that was one for the history books.
Mary, who could have been as young as 14, was 9-months pregnant. Out-of-wedlock pregnant, no less.
Then came the census, which meant she and Joseph had to leave home and travel to Bethlehem. This journey would take four days if Mary rode a donkey, seven days if she walked. When I was pregnant, I could barely walk to the mailbox, let alone 70 miles—with or without a donkey.
Then, when Mary and Joseph finally arrived, they found no lodging. No Ramada Inn. No Motel Six. Not even a Good Sam Campground.
And then her labor began. Maybe Joseph was able to find a midwife, maybe not. Either way, he was a key player in his wife’s delivery. Think on that for a moment.
And then she gave birth in a stable. Read that again. She gave birth in a stable.
And laid her newborn baby in a feeding trough.
But it still wasn’t over. Just as the little family was falling into an exhausted sleep, they heard a rustling at the door. Then voices. Then louder voices. As Joseph peered out into the darkness, he saw a motley band of shepherds babbling about lights, and angels, and a heavenly message.
“They won’t leave until they see the baby,” he told his bewildered wife. “They say they’ve looked in every manger in Bethlehem.”
When I think about it, I realize how imperfect Mary’s Christmas was. But it didn’t matter, because Jesus was there.
This year you may be hoping for a perfect Christmas. Or you may already know you have no chance of one. Ill health, strained finances, or a broken relationship is making you struggle. Maybe you’re facing your first holiday without a loved one, or battling depression, discouragement, or despair.
Maybe it’s time to change the channel on our Hallmark expectations of what Christmas is supposed to look like. Maybe Christmas doesn’t have to look “perfect” to be special.
This holiday season, let’s ask God to give us the grace to follow Mary’s example. Let’s treasure the events of Christmas and ponder them in our hearts. Let’s give thanks for the journey, the stable, and the manger. And let’s glorify and praise God for all we’ve seen and heard, spreading the word to everyone we meet.
I’m hoping for a clogged-drain-vertigo-flat-tire-free Christmas this year. Maybe it will happen. Maybe it won’t. Regardless, I know Christmas will still be special, because Jesus will be there.