The ad begins with a taxi pulling up in front of a beautifully decorated home on Christmas morning. Out steps a young man carrying an armload of presents. He walks up to the door, turns the knob and it opens! What world is he living in? Who leaves their front door unlocked? Why not just put a sign out front that says come in and steal our stuff!
Then the camera shows him stepping into the front hallway of the house. Everything is perfect. All the decorations are in place as though Martha Stewart lived there. Is that your house? It’s not our house. We don’t have an angel on top of our tree – we have Yoda from Star Wars, brandishing his light saber.
To make matters worse, those two kittens we took home a few months ago are destroying everything. They climb the tree, bending down the branches, knock the ornaments onto the floor, and pull at the lights. Every year Nick lays out a Christmas village on a table, and one of the kittens keeps climbing up and chewing the people he puts in the village. It’s like an episode of Godzilla, as she stomps between the buildings snatching victims away and trying to eat them.
After stepping into the house the young man reaches to the wall, flips a light switch and all the lights in the house light up. The lights coming down the banister, the tree lights, lights on the mantle, lights along the windows – lights illuminate everywhere. Is that reality? One switch? At our house you have to connect fifty extension cords before any Christmas lights come on, and then the breaker box in the garage explodes completely out of the wall.
Then he goes into the kitchen and turns on the coffee pot. That’s when you finally see the Folgers can. The aroma of the coffee causes his family, who are upstairs in bed, to stir. They sniff the air and smile. Really? That’s when you call 911! Hello. Someone has broken into my house, and I think they’re downstairs in the kitchen making coffee!
Instead of coming down the stairs with a baseball bat, his parents and sister come bounding joyously down the stairs – all in perfect makeup, of course, and no one has bed hair. The image is perfectly formed, and as his mother turns the corner and sees him she says Peter! You’re home! And then I cry. Because of a coffee commercial.
Actually, it’s not because of a coffee commercial, but the image that is created. That’s the kind of Christmas we all want – a perfect Christmas. We want a Christmas where our family is gathered together, where everything works, where everyone is happy, where there is a beautiful home filled with plenty of presents and plenty of food.
But what is the reality of Christmas? It’s certainly not perfection, is it? Christmas in the real world is far from perfect. Christmas in the real world is a time of running around like some kind of maniac trying to get everywhere you need to go. Christmas in the real world is too little time and too little money. Christmas in the real world is one of stress and anxiety as many worry about not just paying for presents, but putting food on the table. Christmas in the real world is one of anxiety for many because health difficulties cause them to wonder if they will see next Christmas. Christmas in the real world is one of sadness for many because of empty seats at Christmas dinners, the result of loss or of broken relationships.
Our Scripture reading this morning tells us of the return of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus from Egypt. They fled to Egypt because of Herod’s murderous decree after the birth of Jesus. Herod was now gone, but one of his sons ruled in his place, so it was still not safe for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to return to Bethlehem. Instead, they traveled to Nazareth, in Galilee, the northern region of Israel, which was ruled by another of Herod’s sons. And Matthew closes this section of Scripture by writing and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
It wasn’t the plan Mary and Joseph had in mind, it wasn’t how they would have designed life to go, it wasn’t perfect in their minds, but somehow, God fashioned it into a greater plan.
Life seldom goes according to plan. Life seldom works out in the manner we desire – life is never perfect – but God can fashion a plan out of the difficulties we experience and can even turn those difficulties into something beautiful.
This sanctuary looks beautiful for Advent, doesn’t it? Let me tell you about getting it this way. You can’t imagine what a time we had trying to get these trees together. I lost count of how many times we took them apart and put them back together, trying to get them to look the same. We thought they were supposed to be the same, but there was no way that was going to happen. The one on the left came out okay, but the one on my right looks as though its missing a section and has another tree smashed on top of it, so I’m still not sure that we got them right.
And if you were here last night or Friday night for the cantata you saw a beautiful program. You should have been here on Tuesday evening. You always think it always comes together, but this may be the one time that it doesn’t. But it did, thanks to David’s great direction and talent.
But it’s okay when things seem to be falling apart. It’s okay because we need a reminder that in church – especially at church – we cannot forget that life is far from perfect. Sometimes, in church, we fall prey to the temptation of creating the illusion that everything if perfect. We can gloss over our failures and shortcomings in the hopes that we appear as though our lives are perfectly put together, when the reality is far from perfect.
If you fret about your family and your struggles this Christmas, know that the families in Scripture are far from perfect. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Jacob cheated his brother out of his inheritance. David – well, David’s family was an absolute mess. If you’ve had a tough year, think about Job. Job lost everything, but in spite of all he lost, he held fast to his faith and knew that God remained with him. If you’re worried about your past and wonder how God could use you, think about Zaccheus, who was so unpopular because of cheating people out of their money that people crowded him out of the view of Jesus as Jesus walked through town. If you struggle with doubt and are overwhelmed with questions about God, think about Thomas, who couldn’t believe that Jesus had risen. Maybe you wish your would like for your house to look perfectly decorated for Christmas, but you’re more worried because you don’t know who much longer the roof is going to last, think about Joseph and Mary, finding shelter in a stable, and placing Jesus in a manger – a feeding trough.
The good news that comes at Christmas is that God’s gifts of love and grace come into our imperfect lives and imperfect world and create something beautiful.
The perfect Christmas is not one where every decoration is in place, where all the lights work, where the table is set for a perfectly-cooked meal, and where the tree is surrounded by presents. The perfect Christmas took place once – in that stable and in that manger, and that Christmas is where we find hope, and love.