"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call Him Immanuel, God with us." Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)
Plans for the perfect Christmas danced across the stage of my mind. My mom, my brother and my husband's parents were coming to see us. Plus my dad and his wife would be here Christmas day, and JJ's brother and family were coming, too. Inviting our out-of-town families to our home for the holidays for the first time was a dream come true. The fact that they could all come at some point between Christmas and New Years was just short of a miracle.
I'm so embarrassed to admit this, but by the time everyone got here I couldn't wait for them to leave.
In the midst of all the preparations, I'd gotten tangled up in Christmas lights and unrealistic expectations. It all started when my husband and sons petitioned for blinking colored lights on the tree. We don't do colored lights on the tree. I am a "white lights" kind of girl, I insisted. But then JJ suggested our decorating decisions should be a "family activity" that year. Who was this man and why had he not brought this up in pre-marriage counseling? I wondered.
The control freak in me started to freak out. Don't get in the way of my perfect Christmas with white lights that make me and my home feel peaceful.
Further attempts to have the perfect house, perfect menu and perfect table settings were stealing my holiday joy. This being my first time hosting a holiday dinner, I'd failed to notice that my Christmas place mats didn't coordinate with my everyday cloth napkins, and I didn't have festive napkin rings. Worst of all, I didn't know how to cook a turkey.
In the midst of all the holiday obligations I'd placed on myself, I experienced one of my worst Christmas days ever. I had a house full of people, but an oh-so-empty heart.
As I walked through my living room picking up wrapping paper, I wondered why my dreams of the "perfect Christmas" hadn't come true. Many of the elements seemed to be in place: kids running around with remote control cars, adults on the couch snoring to the tune of Jingle Bells, and grown men playing sidewalk hockey in the driveway. We'd lit Advent candles and set out the nativities. Still, something was missing.
Trying to escape the holiday noise, I went upstairs to my bedroom and sat down on the floor in my walk-in closet. Taking a deep breath, I opened my Bible to read the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2. Slowly, I let each word remind me of that first Christmas night and God's promise that came true in Bethlehem. "She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger..." Luke 2:7 (NIV).
A cross reference led me to Isaiah 7:14: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel, God with us."
Closing my eyes, I pictured Mary wrapping baby Jesus. Her hands carefully folding each corner of cloth. Like a beautiful bow on the perfect Christmas gift, she placed a kiss on his forehead.
That's when I realized what had been missing. In the hustle and bustle of creating the perfect Christmas, I'd forgotten to unwrap the perfect gift, the most important gift of all, the gift of Immanuel, God with us.
Bowing my head, I opened my hands and my heart, and unwrapped God's presence in my closet that day. I invited Jesus to bring calm to my anxious heart. To bring His perspective to my expectations and to help me enjoy the gifts of my family that were waiting downstairs. Simply pausing to acknowledge and thank Jesus for being with me brought peace to my heart unlike anything white lights and matching table settings could ever bestow.
It ended up being the perfect Christmas after all!
Dear Lord, no matter how busy life gets or how lonely I feel this Christmas, I want to unwrap the gift of Your presence each day. Help me to see You, hear Your voice speak to my heart, and pay attention when You lead me with Your peace and perspective. I seek Your purpose in all of my plans. In Jesus' Name, Amen.