For years, I have tried to "create" Christmas tailored to ridiculous standards impossible to obtain. Even though I knew the Christmas story and honored it, my real focus was on decorating beautifully, pulling off a menu that pleased everyone and choosing perfect gifts. There is nothing wrong with any of those things and wanting to achieve them. What was very wrong was my belief, hidden deep down, that if I did all these things right I would be rewarded somehow and be happy. I was focused on what I wanted instead of what I could give.
Perhaps it's the jolt of the horrific tragedy in Newtown that has caused my thinking to distill and gravitate towards what is true. Maybe it's the time I've invested in the Bible over the past three months. (I did a class called The Bible in 90 Days. I won't lie, for me it was hell. I would love to say I sailed right through, but I fell asleep during major chunks of the Old Testament. I yelled at God during Leviticus and Deuteronomy and fell to my knees with humility upon reaching the gospels. But that experience is something to write about another day) Maybe it's just that I am finally growing up. Whatever the reason, I'm grateful, relieved and brimming with joy about the upcoming week.
Call it grace. This year, I get it that Jesus was Love in human form. He was literally Light born at a time when the world was a very dark and ugly place. Other than a few stern warnings, He pretty much ignored those in power who were perpetuating the darkness and ugliness. Instead, he chose to hang out with the dregs of society. He showed compassion and unconditional love to children, prostitutes, the mentally ill, the poor, the sick, the contagious, the dying, the homeless, the broken, the hopeless. He loved them. He gave them hope. In his brief time on earth, He spread the radically revolutionary ideas of forgiveness, mercy and grace. He changed everything. And He gave us the message that, if we chose to, through Him we could change everything too.
I wonder what He thinks of all the the time and energy I've wasted pursuing my silly ideal of His birthday, when all I had to do was sit still. Sit still and listen to the sounds of the Salvation Army bell, the carols of children, the crackling fireplace. Sit still and really see the beauty of lights lining my street, the tree hung with years of memories, the tiny manger scene on the mantel. Sit still and feel the warmth of a thick coat, the chill of a winter night, the love of those around me.
When my family gathers at my house on Christmas Eve, it won't really matter how my house looks, what the food tastes like or whether the gifts I gave were a good choice. What will truly matter is that I show love. For that is, and always will be, the greatest gift of all.