John found a picture posted on Facebook last week that we are drawn to over and over again. It’s a funny picture of three toddlers that are crying and holding the word JOY.
Trying to get a good family picture for Christmas cards is a hard thing to do. To get everyone smiling, with both eyes open, hair just right, all pets contained, and everything in Norman Rockwell fashion is a real challenge. I don’t know where this picture came from, but it brought laugh-tears to my eyes as I was transported back in time and saw the reality of the photograph.
In my hometown, Leechburg, PA, in about 1958, we had a town Christmas Tree by the bridge as a featured picture on the town’s newspaper’s front page every year at Christmas. The only thing hanging on the tree was a picture of Jesus and a spotlight on the tree. One day, my Mother and I went to a small grocery store, and the person that took photos for the local paper, the Leechburg Advance, was also there doing some shopping. We stopped at chatted. On the spur of the moment, the photographer asked my Mother if we could meet at the tree, and he would take a picture of me beside the tree for the paper.
Mom and Dad were delighted! I got all dressed up in my Sunday best with a dress, a coat with a matching hat, and boots and gloves. My curly red hair was sticking out from under the cap, and my cheeks were rosy from the cold winter day, along with the Season’s internal bubbling friskiness.
We got by the tree, and Mr. Rimel had his special camera, and I was to stand next to the town tree. He said, “OK, Candy, on three, I’ll snap the picture.” One, two, and bam, my exuberance made me jump up in the air in pure silliness. “We’ll try that again.” One, two, bam, I had to take off running in the snow! “Candy, let’s see if we can stand still to take this picture.” One, two, and success!
Picture taken, and it was on the paper’s front page a few days later; just the tree, the image of Jesus, and an animated little five-year-old Candy. Mom and Dad were so proud, but I remember them talking to me about ‘conduct,’ as we called it back then.
Sometimes our exuberance needs to break loose from us, and sometimes our frustrations, hurts, and bruises do, too. I suspect that the picture above resulted from a need to capture a Norman Rockwell, perfect picture moment on film. There was frustration as tired little ones were not able to present themselves perfectly at that time. Sometimes our adult expectations are a little higher than our present reality. It’s okay to show our hurts and bruises as they are.
It’s also my belief that our expectations for Christmas may be a little high at times. We have it in our heads that our tree and house decorations should be on the Griswold’s level. The Christmas turkey or ham dinner looks magazine perfect with all of the sides. Our families and extended families get together and blend without argument or differing opinions. Conversations are joyful, everyone gets along, and everyone shows love, and that all of our presents be wrapped in beautiful paper and bows and are all picture perfect worthy. It’s not going to happen.
We are imperfect people in an imperfect world, and it’s 2020! There’s a pandemic that is going on. Lots of scary things are happening, and everyone is feeling the effects of that. People are ill, and some are grieving the loss of loved ones and jobs. Money is in short supply this year. It’s ok not to be joyful and exuberant on Christmas.
Maybe God is asking us to go back to the beginning. He reminds us that what we are celebrating is the birth of Jesus. Jesus, God in human form, was born in a barn with animals and straw. Even though He was to be our King, He was brought lowly and a servant for all. Scripture tells us that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. 1 Peter
This 2020 Christmas is an opportunity to take a couple of steps back and look at Christmas for what it is. To celebrate Christ’s birth, and to prepare our hearts for the rebirth of Him into our hearts, and to share the love and grace that is freely given to us, undeserved. We may not have all of the gifts under the tree to give to our kids and grandkids this year. We may need to downgrade our expectations to a simpler time and focus on the real meaning of Christmas. We may even be overwhelmed with sadness because of the empty chairs at the table.
Adam Hamilton, in his book ‘Not A Silent Night’ states, “Christmas is about God’s grace — the kindness, love, forgiveness, and blessings being given to us though we do not deserve them. Jesus came to show God’s grace to humankind. And so, during the season of Christmas, as we celebrate the hope of resurrection, the gift of salvation and the cross, and the coming of the One who taught us how to live, we celebrate the gift of grace.”
Hamilton continues “As you ponder the richness of grace during this Advent season, remember that when you receive grace, you’re meant to give it away. Christmas is a wonderful time of year to share grace. Is there someone you know who has wronged you or hurt you, someone who does not deserve your kindness or a gift or even a Christmas card? What would happen if you showed this person grace? It might transform him or her, and surely it would transform you.”
No matter what our reality is this year, whether it be happy and exuberant, jobless and in hardship, mourning the loss of someone dear, ill in need of healing, or just hanging on by a thread, there is something that we all can do. That something is to be thankful for what we have now, enjoy the people in our lives (even if it’s by zoom or phone), and freely accept the grace born on Christmas Day. We can take that grace that God offered to us, give it to someone else, and share the love.
One thing for sure that doesn’t change is the fact that the Baby born in the manger over 2000 years ago is the same One who is with us today, walking on our life journey with us. He is the one who stands with us on the Mountain Top when our circumstances are good and abundant and happy. He is also the One who carries us through the deepest valleys, step by step when we feel that we can’t put one foot in front of the other. His promises to “Fear Not” and ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you all the days of your life’ stands true today.
He is the one that we celebrate on Christmas.
Our picture this year doesn’t have to look perfect, meet the expectation of others, or to be wrapped in a facade of bright shiny paper and bows. The picture of ourselves this year can be a brown paper package tied up with string. Simple, just as we are today. The Babe will continue to wash over us, make us whole, fill us with His peace, joy, love, and hope, and see us through.
Be blessed to be a blessing,