One time a visitor to our church told me that she loved the service, and the people were very friendly, but she felt uncomfortable because everyone seemed so perfect here. She confided that her life was falling apart and she thought she’d never fit in.
I almost said, “Actually, you have no idea just how screwed up these people are. Trust me, I know – you’re in great company here!” But I have fleeting moments of delicacy in my work, so instead I said, “Stick around for a while. Get to know some people, and you’ll discover you’re not alone. We’re all healing, and it helps to be in this thing together.”
Christmas is coming, and pastors often talk to each other about the pressure people feel to put on a happy face during what is supposed to be a time of joy and extravagance and family celebrations. But only some of the people we know have the makings of a hallmark holiday in their real lives – most of us are basically a mess. If you don’t have money for gifts, or good family relations, or you feel like your life’s been mangled past the point of recognition, how are you supposed to do Christmas?
I’ll be honest, I don’t really know. There’s no formula for managing grief and worry and financial stress and whatever else you’re dealing with perfectly during the holidays.
But because we tell and retell the story of Christ’s birth year after year, there’s occasion to remember that none – count ‘em, none – of the characters in the Christmas story had lives worth bragging about, at least on the surface. Mary and Joseph were flat broke and scandalized in their community; the shepherds were social outcasts; the magi were on the run from the law; and baby Jesus was the target of an assassination attempt.
So what I’m saying is, Christmas is definitely for people whose lives are a mess.
If your life (today at least) is NOT a mess, and looks like a Target commercial, all happy and clean, that’s great! Come to Bethlehem this Christmas.
If you’ve got lots of joys but even more concerns, and your laundry ain’t done, I hope you’ll come to Bethlehem, too.
And if you feel like your life is a total wreck, I beg you, please, please come to Bethlehem. Watch and wait for the new light of God’s love, which darkness cannot overcome. I think you’ll find that you fit right in.