The Meaning in the Mess

We decorated our house for Christmas yesterday. On one hand, I was ready. Seeing everyone else’s decorations and lights and trees caused some holiday-induced envy, and it was time, after all. Christmas is just a few weeks away.

If I had really been in control of things, though, it wouldn’t have happened quite yet….or at least not in quite the same way. You see, our house is still in disrepair from our run-in with termites this past summer. The room is pretty much back to normal, save for a few missing pictures on the walls and incomplete window treatments waiting for the paint to dry just a little bit more. The furniture is where it’s supposed to be, and we’re not tripping over step ladders or paint cans any more.

What isn’t quite right, though, is the floor. Carpet torn and concrete slab exposed, it’s not the picture-perfect floor it was or will be once the laminate goes in over the next couple of weeks.

I know it’s not that big a deal. There are much worse things we could be dealing with, but it still bothers me far more than it should. When I was a little girl, decorating for Christmas was a production that took over every room of the house, and by the time the last box was emptied and stuffed back into the attic, our everyday clutter had been replaced by a winter wonderland that could have graced the pages of Southern Living or Better Homes & Gardens. For those few weeks in December, as candles shone from darkened windows and colorful nativities found homes on bookshelves and Mom’s impressive collection of ceramic Santas watched us from atop the entertainment center, it was as though we were in someone else’s house. It was beautiful and perfect and a real place of childlike wonderment.

So in recent years, as I have risen to the position of Chief Decorator of my own little family, it has been my joy to transform our home into a Christmas fantasyland. We don’t have the decorations of years and years of collecting, but when the Christmas decorations come out, I always like to think that something special comes over our house. It becomes different. More cozy, somehow. More welcoming and hospitable. Really, it becomes more of what I want it to be the other eleven months of the year.

With our floor incomplete, though, the magic of the transformation was somewhat lost. I didn’t want to put the tree up or bring out the stockings and wreaths until the floor was in. I wanted to wait until it was perfect. I wanted Christmas to wait until I was ready.

But sometime yesterday it occurred to me that Christmas is not a story of perfect beauty and perfect timing. Rather, Christmas is a story of beauty in the middle of a mess….of timing that is still perfect even when it seems all wrong.

Because Christmas isn’t about picture-perfect decorations, or even about creating wonder in a child’s eyes. Christmas is about majesty birthed in a manger….about faith materialized in filth. Christmas is about a baby boy in a barn. Stars and shepherds…starlit journeys.

Christmas isn’t about our beautiful perfection.
Christmas is about unattainable perfection and impossible grace. About beauty that comes to redeem brokenness. About light that enters into and destroys bitter darkness.

It’s not about perfect brand new floors and evergreen branches against freshly painted walls, and it’s not about hearts that are in perfect condition.

If the Christmas season waited until things were perfect, it would never come.
And if Jesus had expected things to be perfect when He got here, there would have been no reason to come.
And if Mary’s labor pains waited until the world was ready to receive her boy child, we would be awaiting our Savior still.

So as I sat on a cold cement slab and strung lights from an old and crumbling artificial tree, I think somehow I understood this whole thing better than ever. I think the wonderment finally caught up with me.

Because you see…..Christmas isn’t something we create. It isn’t special because we do so much to make it beautiful. Christmas is special because it makes us beautiful.

Christ – that baby Messiah in a manger on a straw-covered dirt floor – doesn’t expect perfection. He doesn’t expect a perfect laminate floor for his birthday celebration. No, He is a Messiah who perfects expectation….stirring something in our messy and unprepared hearts that hopes and longs for a time when everything will be beautiful and perfect and better than we could ever have planned.

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