Imperfect Christmas

One of my favorite Christmas movies is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It was released 33 years ago and is a Christmas classic. It seems to be on television nightly. It stars Chevy Chase (born 1943) who plays the part of Clark Griswold. (However, I love Randy Quaid (born 1950), who plays the part of Cousin Eddie. He is such a jerk!)  Clark is a good man who wants to bring his family the perfect Christmas. He tries everything but everything seems to go wrong. The Christmas lights do not work. The turkey looks great, but it is dry. The neighbors are annoying. The relatives are weird. The squirrel gets in the house. The cat gets electrocuted. It is a fun movie to watch. How many times have you seen Christmas Vacation?

Do you know why we love Christmas Vacation? The reason is every December we play the part of Clark Griswold. We do our best to give our family the perfect old fashion Christmas. The problem is we live in an imperfect world. Something always seems to go wrong. We should not be surprised because we live in an imperfect world. It has always been that way. That takes us to our scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the first chapter of Luke, verses twenty-six through forty-three. The main character is Mary. She was the one God chose to be the mother of Jesus. She is in a difficult position. I would encourage you to forget everything you think you know about her and simply look at the words of the story. Do not think of her as a saint or some spiritual superhero. She is not a mature woman in her twenties. She was a teenager, who is going through an incredibly difficult time. Her life is far from perfect. She is more like us then you can imagine. Because of this similarity between us and her, she models for us how to survive in our world. There are three divine truths in her story.

First, Mary reminds us: life is hard. Life has always been hard. If you do not believe me then look at the Nativity, itself. Do not glamorize the story. Do not get sucked into the tradition. I will say it again. Just read the words. Every single person in the story was in a difficult situation. Never forget, it all began with an unwanted pregnancy. Mary was in a difficult situation. In a time that valued morals, Mary was an unwed pregnant teenager. Joseph was in a difficult situation. There was no right answer. On the one hand, he had every right to divorce Mary and walk away. The problem is Mary would have been found guilty of adultery. That means she could be stoned to death. How could he live with her death on his hands? On the other hand, if he takes Mary as his own then he brings shame on himself. He is saying he has broken the abstinence law during the engagement. If you turn to the second chapter of Matthew, then you find the story of the Magi. They were in a difficult situation. All they wanted to do was worship the newborn king. Do you remember what happened? Their sincere actions led to the death of two-year-old baby boys and younger. How many mothers blamed them for their son’s death? Outside of the nativity, Zachariah and Elizabeth are in a difficult situation. They had no children, and their society demanded many children. They believed the more the children the greater God’s blessings. The fewer the children the fewer the blessings. They had no children, so they had no blessings. Do I have to go on? Their lives were hard.

For many, still today, life is hard. How perfect is your Christmas going to be this year? Maybe your perfect Christmas is not impossible because you are grieving? The loss of a loved one is never easy. Maybe your perfect Christmas is not possible because some relationship in your life is broken? People file for divorce twelve months a year. People ignore their siblings twelve months a year. People refuse to forgive twelve months a year. Maybe your perfect Christmas is not possible because you are consumed with worry. How are you going to pay for all those student loans? How are you going to get out of debt? The mole on your back is changing. Maybe your perfect Christmas is not possible because your time is running out? You have not lived out any of your youthful dreams. You feel like you have not done anything! Does anyone here feel like they are letting the next generation down? Do you know of anyone who has a hard life? Could it be you have a hard life? Do you know of anyone who has ever said, “Life is much easier than I ever expected!” No! Life is hard!

Second, Mary reminds us: sometimes we need others. Look at the story one more time with me. Mary was from the town of Nazareth. In her time, Nazareth had a population of between 100 and 400 people. Have you ever lived in a small town? Have you ever worshipped in a small membership church? Everyone knows everyone else. Everyone knows everyone’s business. Mary was single and pregnant in a small town. Everyone in her life is talking about her pregnancy. She is the hot topic at the well. The story says she went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Biblical scholars believe she went for two reasons. First, she goes to Elizabeth to escape the people in her life. Second, she goes to Elizabeth receive some unconditional love. Has there ever been a time in your life when you needed the counsel of someone else? Have you ever been the counsel for someone else? Sometimes we need people. Mary went to Elizabeth. Where do you go? Have you ever gone to visit a relative? Have you ever gone to visit a friend? Have you ever traveled to a counselor or a support group? Do not feel guilty! Sometimes we need people. Life is hard. Sometimes we need people. 

Third and finally, Mary reminds us: we always need God. Look at the text with me one final time. The angel goes to Mary and tells her she is going to have a baby. Mary knows it is biologically impossible. She has never been intimate with a man. The angel tells her the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive. What does that mean? It means that Mary’s personal agenda for her life must be discarded. Her personal will means nothing. God’s will for her means everything. Verse 38 is an incredible verse. It says, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  She sacrificed her dreams and desires for her life for God’s will. Generations later, she reminds us that we always need God. How much of your will are you willing to surrender to God? Life is hard. Sometimes we need others. We always need God.

This will be an odd Christmas for me. For four decades I led worship on Christmas Eve but not this year. I will not miss it, but I do have fond memories. Looking back, I enjoyed spending Christmas Eve at church. For years, I led three services on Christmas Eve. Can I be honest with you? There was a time when I ruined Christmas for myself because I was looking for the perfect Christmas Eve worship experience. My attitude about Christmas changed in a single moment. It happened during a 7:00 Christmas Eve service, the largest of the three. We were just about to take up the Christmas offering.The ushers came forward and I passed out the offering plate. Without warning, one of the ushers dropped the plate and it hit the prayer rail. It sounded like cymbals crashing. I was frustrated because I was striving for perfection. I was preoccupied by that moment for the rest of the service and was still venting about it the next morning. It was at that moment the person I respect the most I the world saved my Christmas forever. My wife Kathryn said to me, “Russ, it is Christmas. It comes once a year. Enjoy it. Things happen.” And she gave me a kiss and said, “Merry Christmas!”

This is the good news for today! I am not going to give you a kiss, but I am going to remind you it is Christmas. There is no such thing as the perfect Christmas, because from the very beginning it was imperfect. It all began with an unwanted pregnancy. Never forget, Christmas is not about you. Christmas is not about your family or loved ones. Christmas is about Jesus, who came to save this imperfect world. It only comes once a year. Enjoy it. David Jeremiah (born 1941) once said, “All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ.”

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