Allow me to reach into the top of the closet and pull down a Christmas memory. One Christmas, when my children's age fell between the “can't sleep” goosebumps and the teenage morning coma, I assigned them a shopping trip. I stuffed their fists full of cash and pointed them towards the mall. They had one name on their list—mine! So I made sure the currency was more abundant than normal. I was hoping for something with batteries and Japanese instructions. So on Christmas morn, I tore into the box they put under the tree for me. But…it was a tie, a ghastly and by my calculations, a rather expensive tie. I squeezed out a smile and masked my sense of disappointment. I don't mind a tie now and then, but this one hung between ugly and hideous. I put it back in the box.
After tactful negotiations, we agreed to take this tasteless tie back for a refund. It wasn't to be. The merchant explained he had a firm no return policy. (Apparently ugly ties had found their way home before!) I was polite and persisted. He was less than polite but more insistent. So, I huffed out of the store with three things: a tie I'd never wear, an attitude I shouldn't have, and a lesson I really needed. Why was I was being Scrooge-like over my children's act of kindness offered in love? Because my expectations were so inflated no matter what the kids purchased it would never measure up. My puffed anticipation elevated me to a height where a fall was inevitable.
Frankly, some of you fall into the same Christmas trap. We load Christmas with more demands than a tree has needles. We long for a pristine Christmas where every carol is in tune, every sweater fits and, most of all, every loved one is at our table. But it doesn't happen that way. Often the turkey is dry, money is tight and there are empty chairs at dinner. Our Victorian visions of Christmas Day evaporate, leaving a residue of resentment. We are crestfallen that the season is not all that we make it out to be. But that's the problem. A Christmas of our own making is bound to fail.
The story of Bethlehem reveals no sense of disappointment. You hear no complaint from Joseph about accommodations. Mary does not reject the manger. Shepherds rejoice despite the humble circumstance and Magi worship despite Herod’s threats. The Nativity was not immaculate but it was more than enough. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 KJV). God stepped into our world with open heart and hand. He has extended a gift of grace, the rescue from our sins with joy and peace as our lasting inheritance. Such good news ought to be enough for any Christmas cynic. God’s Christmas grace can never disappoint. Once in a while, I wear a certain tie as a reminder.