Sappy sentiments about “home” pervade this season no less than cheesy Christmas music and relentless advertisements telling us to buy things. The classic “Home for Christmas” competes for airtime with Justin Bieber’s “Home This Christmas.” Don’t forget the movies from “Home Alone” to the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” where being embraced by family and friends, chestnuts roasting on the open fire, trees laden with gifts, everyone reunited, happy and, well, home, marks the Norman Rockwell image of Christmas. But I ask you, is this what your home is like?
Moments of such greeting card bliss and annual holiday letter verbiage exist, but only in fleeting glimpses. That selfie is taken just before the smoke alarm goes off and the turkey gets hurriedly pulled from the flames. The social media post crops out the loved one who’s had too much punch and subsequently not enough filter. Rarely do we hear about the strained dinner conversation about politics, or the new girlfriend no one likes, or the changing of the guard when the kids get picked up by the ex-spouse for round two of holiday stress (I mean holiday fun). What if we started the hashtag #realfamilychristmas and got honest?
We might reveal that our child received a sinful number of gifts, but whined about what he didn’t get. We might share that we’re lonely now that our children have moved out of the house, or that we wish we could chuck some of the traditions that wear us out and have lost their meaning. Perhaps we’d say we question all the commercialism, but we can’t seem to escape it; or to tell the truth, we like the commercialism but feel guilty about it.
Our homes – sometimes where our hearts are, sometimes where we can’t go again, sometimes only in our dreams – come occupied with memories, people and experiences of all kinds: good, beautiful, hurtful or maybe even scary. Such are the makings of #realfamilychristmas. I wish we could say that out loud this time of year – not to shame or judge, lament or regret, but to free us from the tyranny of unrealistic expectations that serve only to lessen our appreciation of the messy homes and households we inhabit.
Real homes and real families come with clutter, complications and complex relationships. Home and households contain our best and worst selves and all the baggage that goes along with them. When we gather together, whatever the configuration, our sinfulness, our mistakes, our hopes, our strengths, our weaknesses all gather with us and jumble together to make a family. What if we weren’t afraid to be whatever that family happens to be? No expectations of stockings hung by the chimney with care, or sleigh bells jingling in the snow, or kissing under the mistletoe – just beloved, motley people, home, and doing the best they can to love each other, or at least get through the meal without a fight or a flight.
Ironically enough, the Christmas story we celebrate, when we tell it truthfully, wouldn’t make the Christmas card or music or movie or annual letter cut. Mary’s pregnancy? Scandalous. Joseph’s impulse to send her away? Understandable, but not to be mentioned in public. No photos of a table decorated to the nines and overloaded with food and wine. Well-dressed children lined up and smiling by the tree? Nowhere in sight that holy night.
Just a young woman and a man who worked as a carpenter and a newborn baby huddled in humble quarters. #realfamilychristmas. They had to be tired, scared, unsure, certain they didn’t measure up to the family down the road or the expectations of their parents or maybe even the expectations they’d hoped for themselves. Nonetheless, there they were at the end of a journey they did not choose, gathered together, doing the best they could under difficult circumstances, in a temporary home. Unaware that their first #realfamilychristmas created a home for the whole wide world in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This Christmas let go of expectations. Ignore the movie-set depictions of homes and families and embrace your own, with all its interesting dynamics and challenging relationships, trusting that wherever two or three are gathered, Jesus is there too, and we are welcomed home.
Grace and peace,