On the Sunday afternoon after Thanksgiving, I sat curled up on the couch, coffee in hand, scrolling past photo after photo after photo on Instagram of adorable kids hunting for the perfect Christmas tree.
I sighed and looked up from my phone to assess the fake tree I’d assembled the night before in our living room. It’s realistic-looking enough, and it has the colorful lights our daughters begged for, but still. It’s made of plastic, and I felt a pang of jealousy toward those families out there tree hunting.
Heading out to the tree farm—or, for many years, the tent in the Home Depot parking lot—to select a tree with my family has long been one of my favorite ways to get into the Christmas spirit.
But this year we opted for practical over preference, because sadly, when there’s a tree in our house, my husband and I spend the month of December popping allergy pills and doling out little cups of the liquid version to the girls to subdue all of our sneezing and itching.
I know the fake tree was the right choice for us. We’ll feel better, our kids could not have cared less that we skipped the drive out to Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest (real place), I don't have to vacuum up any needles, and at night when it’s lit up in our dark living room, it really is lovely. Not to mention, it was generously gifted to us.
But I need to be honest with you—I’ve struggled off and on with disappointment over the plastic tree. It's trivial, I know. I feel sheepish that I'm even sitting here telling you about it.
December is a challenging month for perfectionists, isn’t it?
Excitement and expectations run high, there are parties to throw and/or attend, Nutcracker performances to dress up for, tree lightings and school programs filling up the calendar. In years past, I’ve battled a crazy sense of urgency that if I didn’t pack our schedule with every holiday activity available to us, we were missing out on memory-making and, heaven forbid, those perfect photo ops.
The holidays are social-media gold it seems, and it’s far too easy to get so wrapped up in the amazing, festive activities everyone else appears to be doing (keyword, appears) that feelings of discontentment begin to creep in. The longer we scroll, the more focused we become on the flaws in our decorations, our lame gift-wrapping skills, our Christmas cookies that didn't turn out quite like they were supposed to.
If our eyes are fixed anywhere other than Bethlehem, we are missing the only thing that actually matters.
The Advent season has just begun. If you’re feeling distracted, disappointed, or not enough, it’s not too late to shift your focus. Start fresh right now by looking toward the place where light pierced through the dark. Jesus was born into this broken world precisely because we’re not enough. Because we are a mess, and we need him.
He came to rescue us.
This, the gospel, is why we celebrate. We desperately needed rescuing, and our Rescuer came. The baby in the manger was the beginning of it all.
As Sally Lloyd-Jones phrases it in The Jesus Storybook Bible, “The God who flung planets into space and kept them whirling around and around, the God who made the universe with just a word, the one who could do anything at all—was making himself small. And coming down... as a baby.”
Let’s not allow a plastic tree or (insert your own holiday disappointments here) distract us from this good, good news. In the midst of our mess, our shortcomings, God gives grace, hope, and peace—in the form of a tiny babe.
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