Listening to an NPR podcast about a growing movement for “gift-less Christmas” (releasing the consumerist addiction to focus attention on more humane, compassionate and loving opportunities), one mother reported this: she was consumed with providing for her children “a perfect Christmas.” By that she meant the whole megillah—gifts, decorations, parties, whatnot and hoo-ha. A very tall order. And impossible. And, from the point of view from the manger, completely missing the point—cultural and personal expectations swamping consciousness.
Now I like some of the trappings of the season, and I am somewhat invested in creating festive hospitality, especially for my young grandchildren. I want the church well-appointed with lots of candles. But I let go of perfection a long time ago…not only for my sake, but for everyone else’s as well.
No one would have thought a manger in a barn was the perfect setting for giving birth. The more we make it pretty and drowned in impossible expectations, the further we move from the opportunity the occasion presents. Jesus comes speedily to us in our need and emptiness rather than our fullness. The more we engorge on attempting to fulfill impossible expectations the further we move from the manger with its meager provisions.
Humble is the true byword for Christmas. Humble, empty, open-hearted and open-handed. Those are the qualities, the gifts, we might bring to the manger this year. That’s my suggestion to you. I hope to see you manger-side. But if you’re traveling and will visit another stable in another town don’t go with over-the-top expectations. Someone is bound to let you down, not measure up or otherwise thwart your best-laid plans. When that happens be glad for the opportunity to remember how it went down for Joseph and Mary. The gift was given to them in their humility and poverty. And so it has always been for those who would seek to find God.