“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
As the days draw near to Christmas, I eagerly await the arrival of our postman. In the day’s mail, I am delighted when I discover a lovely card or two filled with messages and beautiful photos from far-flung family members or friends. It’s one of the things I enjoy about Christmas – the opportunity to reconnect with those folks I don’t often have a chance to see. Though there have been many years when I personally did not have the financial means, the energy, or the wherewithal to send a card (and didn’t), I have been known to start planning next year’s Christmas card long before most people have even given it a single thought.
This year was to be no exception.
Despite a few internal inklings of misgiving, I was moving full steam ahead with my plan. I had already scouted the perfect neighborhood location. I had thoughtfully determined the color scheme and the specific arrangement of the eight grandchildren and their family groupings. I was confident that my design for the card was solid. And yet each time I started to execute the plan, something held me back. I would put a date on the calendar and then scratch it out. This happened repeatedly. Even though it took me a while, I finally got the message.
I began to pray.
Long story short: the photo that graced our Christmas card this year was one photo I would, hands down, NEVER have chosen for our card. EVER.
Why, you might ask?
Because it reveals too much.
If you look carefully, you will see that it’s a far cry from the picture-perfect family I hold in my mind.
And so here it is. Here we are in this microcosm of our life as a family. Two of the grandsons are fighting. One granddaughter has refused to participate and is wandering around doing her own thing and refusing to pose for any of the pictures. The lighting is poor, and the faces are not in focus. One of the narrators was in tears shortly before the play began because the other narrator had chosen the angel costume she wanted to wear. And the grandchild whose turn it was to play baby Jesus had collapsed in exhaustion and was asleep in another room. And if I am willing to strip away the layers under which I am so easily tempted to hide, there is more. So much more.
While a far cry from the near-perfect photograph of my dreams, I am slowly coming to realize that although real life is harder, it is ever so much better than what I want others to see or perceive about me and my family. When you strip away the artifice and the staging, we are a people in continual need of a Savior. We are a family longing for Emmanuel, God with us.
And the true miracle of the advent of our Savior Jesus Christ is that He is with us — each and every moment of every single day.
My prayer for you, Sweet Monday friends, most of whom I have never met, is that you may experience Christ in the midst of a real “true-to-life” Christmas. That you may be filled to the brim and spilling over with the power and hope that only Christ can bring. That you will surrender your ideas of what the “ideal” Christmas should look like, and instead embrace whatever it is that your Christmas turns out to be. Even if you are alone or lonely, or so covered up with family that you cannot breathe – even if your best laid plans go awry or relationships falter and there is so much tension that you can cut it with a knife – even if there is deep persistent heartache, unimaginable loss, or newfound grief — no matter where it is you find yourselves, my prayer is that you will know the reality and the beautiful truth of Emmanuel, God with us. God with you.
Have a real Christmas, dear ones, for the true gift of God in Jesus Christ is better by far than anything the world has to offer.