perfect-christmas-treeChristmas is upon us. We are just a few short days from Christmas eve. Only a few more sleeps until we welcome the Christ child. Of course that means we are only a few short sleeps away from welcoming family into our homes or perhaps driving to see family. Christmas is a time when families come together and celebrate. Granted at this point in the month you may be breathing a sigh of relief that many other Christmas parties, shopping, and gift wrapping are over. Christmas is a busy time. There is a real hustle and bustle to things and when we are getting together with family and giving gifts we often like things to be perfect. However, things are often anything but perfect.

There is a story about a Christmas correspondence between Martha Stewart and Erma Bombeck an American humourist that illustrates this notion of the perfect Christmas. It’s not a true story, but you’ll get the point.

Hi Erma, This perfectly delightful note is being sent on paper I made myself to tell you what I have been up to. Since it snowed last night, I got up early and made a sled with old barn wood and a glue gun. I hand painted it in gold leaf, got out my loom, and made a blanket in peaches and mauves. Now it’s time to start making the place mats and napkins for my 20 breakfast guests. I’m serving the old standard Stewart 12-course breakfast, but I didn’t have time to make the tables and chairs this morning, so I used the ones I already had. I did take time to make the dishes to use for breakfast from Hungarian clay, which you can get at almost any Hungarian craft store. Well, I must run. I need to finish the buttonholes on the dress I’m wearing for breakfast. I’ll get out the sled and drive this note to the post office as soon as the glue dries on the envelope I’ll be making.- Love, Martha Stewart

The response from Erma Bombeck:

Dear Martha, I’m writing this on the back of an old shopping list, pay no attention to the coffee and jelly stains. I’m 20 minutes late getting my daughter up for school, packing a lunch with one hand, on the phone with the dog pound, seems old Ruff needs bailing out, again. Burnt my arm on the curling iron when I was trying to make those cute curly fries. Still can’t find the scissors to cut out some snowflakes, tried using an old disposable razor…trashed the tablecloth. Tried that cranberry thing, frozen cranberries mushed up after I defrosted them in the microwave. Oh, and don’t use Fruity Pebbles as a substitute in that Rice Krispie snowball recipe, unless you happen to like a disgusting shade of green! The smoke alarm is going off, talk to ya later.- Love, Erma

Or perhaps our Christmas goes a little more like this. You’ve purchased the perfect gift for your child. Kids love to guess what is in their presents. Perhaps picking them up and shaking them. Some might even very carefully pull back the tap for a peek inside. I’m guilty of doing that when I was little. As children we imagine what might be wrapped up inside of that gift. There is a Dennis the Menace cartoon, that shows Dennis running into the room with a big box. He calls to his mom and as she turns around her mouth drops open just as Dennis says” Mon, we’d better tell Santa Claus to forget about the train set I asked for. I just found one exactly like it on the top shelf of dad’s closet!”

That’s Christmas isn’t it?

I don’t know anybody who is really able to enjoy the Martha Stewart picture perfect Christmas. Often the attempt of it in my own life backfires and adds more stress to an already busy time. Kids get sick, people lose their jobs, people even die. Trouble doesn’t take a holiday even at Christmas. That shouldn’t surprise us: even the first Christmas wasn’t picture perfect . In the midst of all the miracles and joy, there were a lot of hassle, and a lot of hurting. We often look back at Christmas with magical rose colored glasses, and then we compare our troubled lives to it and think it does apply to me. It has nothing to say to my messed up life.

Christmas comes with high expectations doesn’t it? And those expectations often have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. Instead those expectations are wrapped in gifts and dinners, family and friends. We do our best to portray a life that is perfect. We don’t want to show our flaws or our weaknesses at this time of year. And that’s ok, but it is a lot of added stress. When we get right down to it what we are showing to the world is an image of ourselves that is perhaps not 100% true. It might be what we’d like to be true, but our realty is often very different.

As we advance to Christmas how have past Christmas’ been less than perfect in your own life and why might that be? What can we do in life to move forward focused on what the season truly asks of us. How despite that Christmas not being ‘perfect’ has the message of grace that comes with the birth of Christ been revealed to you?

Our reading from Matthew’s gospel this morning reminds us that the preparations for what we might call the first Christmas were not normal and far from proper and polished. Joseph who we learn is a righteous man has discovered that his bride-to-be is pregnant. What’s he to do? He decides he will divorce her quietly. Which given the available legal actions to him is a very civil choice. This would certainly not be a perfect Christmas. An unwanted pregnancy and a marriage soon to be over.

In some ways I think we are all a little bit like Joseph. There are times when we quietly go about our business. We don’t want any trouble or fuss. We simply take care of the problems that are before us and perhaps that is a lesson for us. Rather than doing some things loudly, perhaps we should do them quietly.

Our story from Matthew shows us that after his encounter with the angel Joseph decides not to divorce Mary. He quietly proceeds with the wedding. I can’t imagine that this was an easy decision for him. Even with the knowledge gained from the angel, Joseph’s actions were just as scandalous as Mary’s condition. However, Joseph demonstrates that he is a man of deep faith. He remains with Mary out of his love and understanding of God’s plan.

You can imagine that his wedding was an event to look forward to. Just as Christmas is for us. There were plans to make, people to invite, food to prepare. All the fanfare that wedding requires and then along comes this unexpected pregnancy. Joseph’s wedding, just like many of our Christmas’, was suddenly not as perfect an event as he and Mary would have liked.

Let’s put that conversation the angel had with Joseph into language that we would understand today. It might go something like this, “Joseph, I know this is not what you expected or wanted. However, things will be alright. God is going to do something wonderful and unexpected in your life. Don’t worry about the fact that according to Jewish laws and customs that you are in a really awkward social situation. It’s going to work out ok.”

How many of us have had plans go awry and we’ve wondered how will we recover. What will we do? And yet somehow we do go on, somehow we do survive. We’ve all had the perfect Christmas come crashing down. Maybe the turkey was burnt, an old family disagreement boiled to the surface, we worried we didn’t do enough, buy a big enough present, spend enough time with family. You name it, it’s probably happened to someone in this room. We have all had the less than perfect Christmas. This is the message of our text. That sometimes unexpected things happen. Sometimes these things are truly terrifying. However, throughout all of it God is at work. Somehow out of it all God does something new in our lives.

Joseph trusts. Joseph decides to trust this strange and unexpected news. He trusts that the child that will be born is from the Holy Spirit, that the child already has a name. Joseph trusts in the promise that is held with this child, that this child will save people from their sins. At Christmas we think of Jesus as an infant and we lose perspective on what it must have meant to bring that child into the world.

What God brings into the world in Jesus Christ is different. It speaks to us in powerful ways. Jesus comes into our broken lives in the most unlikeliest of ways. Not in power and glory, but in humility and shame. Mary and Joseph would have been shunned. Jesus’ first night spent in a dirty stable.

God comes to us in strange and unexpected ways. Amidst the hustle and the bustle of the Christmas season, God reveals godself to us. We may not be aware of it, but God is present in our midst. When the tree falls over, when the turkey is burnt or the spirit of the season ruined by unexpected news God is there with us. This is how God often approaches us, in quiet unassuming ways. This is how God brought our salvation into the world.

By normal standards it was not perfect. It broke every social convention of the day. It was embarrassing and shameful. It probably caused a great deal of emotional stress on both Mary and Joseph and yet God did it anyway. God came to us in humility. God came and asked Mary and Joseph to trust.

How is God speaking to you this Christmas. Set aside the business of the season and reflect on how God is working in your own life. What doors are being opened? What opportunities are present? Do they terrify you? Do they excite you? Do they threaten to upset our carefully constructed lives?

How is God asking us to trust this Christmas? Is it to care for the Christ-child, to love Jesus openly and in ways that might feel threatening? As we approach Christmas eve, let’s approach it open to God’s awesome ability to work in our lives in the most unexpected of ways. Amen.

Text: Matthew 1: 18-25