Each year, I promise myself it’ll be different. The Christmas in my head is organised weeks in advance: cards posted, presents wrapped, and sprouts prepared in good time. I have an annual ambition that in the few days before The Big Day I’ll be free to relax and maybe enjoy a coffee with friends, as well as having plenty of time (and energy) to meditate on the wonder of the incarnation. And for the first three weeks of December I convince myself that I’m on top of things and that once I get to the end of term I’ll be able to chill, in a house that’ll somehow be calmer than a turkey farm on Boxing Day.
So why is it that every Christmas Eve I feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff still left to do? I have managed to write all the cards (although I still have three sitting by the front door waiting to be hand-delivered), and I’ve wrapped most of the presents. We did the big supermarket shop on the 23rd, an experience about as far removed from the concept of “peace and goodwill” as Tim Peake is from his home and family this Christmas. But for every job I tick off my list, another three appear, and I worry that my Christmas Day celebrations will be more focused on whether I can stay awake past the Queen’s speech than on the miracle of God coming to earth as a tiny baby.
The media does a fantastic job in selling us the myth of the “perfect” Christmas. Buy this perfume, wear that dress, prepare 27 different types of stuffing and you’ll have the best Christmas ever. Put on a silly hat, ply the in-laws with sherry, and everything will be sweetness and light in your home. Except that life isn’t perfect: it’s messy and complicated. Relationships can be difficult and memories can be bittersweet, especially at this time of year. Those gifts we so lovingly wrapped get broken, or are left unused. And often we’re so tired that we fail to appreciate the opportunity to spend more time with those we love.
I wonder, though, whether we’re missing the point here. Two thousand years ago, the Son of God was born into a world that was messy and complicated, too. The people who sought Jesus out – and followed him – never came because they had nothing else to do, or because their lives were all hunky-dory. Jesus attracted people whose lives were broken and damaged. The poor and needy flocked to him. And he calls us today – however busy and stressed we may feel – to look to him. If we want to receive afresh the gift of Christ this Christmas, we need to surrender our attempts at enforced peace and harmony, and instead invite Jesus to meet us in the midst of our mess.