Our houses are decorated, our stockings are hung, our perfectly decorated trees aren’t even big enough to provide a canopy over the large number of gifts we’ve bought.
So, why is it sometimes so hard to enjoy? Why do we gripe and snap? Why do we wake up with empty wallets and empty hearts, after snapping at our mothers? Griping at our fathers? Trying in vain to fight the resentment that builds in our hearts towards our sisters? After all, doesn’t she know I won’t fit into a medium sweater anymore? Is she trying to make a point that I haven’t maintained my figure? And seriously, who gives CDs anymore? Do I look like a KE$HA fan?
Sometimes magazine articles try to advise us on how to have the perfect Christmas. But we won’t ever have those, will we? After all, we’re . . . well, we’re us. During the season, we get everything we want — time off, sleeping late, that new Pottery Barn glassware — and suddenly we can see how much we idolize comfort and gadgets.
It’s not pretty.
So, what’s the key to a sane family Christmas?
Well, it’s a little late, isn’t it? After all, how can we suddenly be selfless? How can we make sure our kids don’t think too highly of themselves, beginning today? How can we ensure grateful hearts? How can we provide perspective on our wealth as Americans . . . even if the iPhone 4 we received wasn’t a 4s?
Christmas reveals the sin in our hearts, but it also gives us a solution. The very incarnation of Christ (and his subsequent death and resurrection) can miraculously free us from ourselves.
Instead of hoping they finally picked up on the 37th clue — a circle around New York on the map with a Post-It note which reads “airline tickets!” — the gospel liberates us to welcome the fact that we aren’t packing our luggage anytime soon. We can start looking forward to Mom’s bossy suggestion to add salt to the already too salty ham. We can try to enjoy the irritation when brother’s idea of “helping out in the kitchen” means licking his dessert plate clean. We can already appreciate that our older kids will have to go to the bathroom as soon as our younger kids finally falls asleep on the roadtrip. We can realize that our dads will probably belch through our kids’ flute rendition of “Silent Night.”
Why look forward to these invariable irritants? Because they show us what’s in our hearts. Christmas, in a weird way, allows us to see our own sin more dramatically: We are selfish, we are resentful, we give presents sometimes to show people how clever we are instead of trying to find something they’d really need, and we feel sorry for ourselves. And in that misery, in that turmoil, in that moment when we consider telling our spouses exactly where to stuff that new toaster oven, it dawns on us.
We need a savior.
Thankfully, somewhere this season, we’ll see a manger scene . . . in the front yard of that weirdly evangelistic church off the interstate, on a commercial advertising insurance, or on the cheap wrapping paper our in-laws use.
But we see Him. He is a baby. In a manger. The son of God, who came to save the world from our sins. Immanuel.
He, after all, is the only way to quiet the chaos of our homes over the holidays and the chaos of our hearts over the holidays. And this is true, even though his manger scene image is being used to wrap the Pyrex dishes your mother-in-law gave as a hint to cook more frequently.