There we stood in my mother’s kitchen, exchanging looks instead of gifts as we heard growls coming from the family room. I asked Mom what in the world was going on in there. He always has a hard time around the holidays, came her reply. We just need to stay in here. He’s been drinking. Whiskey drunk means he’s a mean drunk.
You see this step-dad was a Vietnam vet. And an alcoholic. The memories of war were exacerbated by the holidays. So he drank whiskey, not his normal beer, to try and drown the thoughts of buddies long gone, scenes of destruction and families whose lives are forever changed. I didn’t realize that then. I just knew he “ruined”our Christmas.
So we kept ourselves within the confines of the kitchen. Presents would be opened another day. At least we could eat together.
Then there was a different time, house and husband when we all gathered at Mom’s once again and the stove stopped working mid-morning which meant mid turkey basting. Fortunately (?) Mom had lots of frozen hotdogs that could be nuked in the microwave. Nothing says Merry Christmas like biting into a hotdog that has cheese in the middle. That cheese wiener holiday dinner is stilled talked about today.
Why am I sharing a couple not so pleasant memories from Christmas? I have lots of good ones, I promise, so why these?
Because we’ve all been there. We want everything to go perfect and smooth. Especially during the holidays. But almost always, something happens. We want a Norman Rockwell portrait…
But Norman Rockwell ain’t your daddy.
Instead we have weird relatives and kids who cry. Burnt cookies and cheese wieners. Who hasn’t stayed up until midnight on Christmas Eve wrapping gifts?? There’s so much pressure to perform perfection. It’s insanity. (On a side note: if you do not have a Christmas horror story, you are dead to me. I jest…mostly.)
Before you point your finger and cry, Scrooge! let me explain. Somewhere in the middle of all that wrapping paper and all those bows, twinkling lights and mistletoe, cookie baking and eggnog making, stockings hung with care and tinsel flare is a manger. And a reminder. Of the very first Christmas. It was messy and less than ideal.
Think about it. Mary was a pregnant teenage virgin (the smell of scandal still wafts in the air!) traveling many miles because the government said they had to (nobody likes the government, right?), on a donkey no less, with her soon to be husband who chooses to stay with her because an angel tells him to. Let the messiness of that sink in anew.
They get to their destination and there is not one hotel room available anywhere. (Hello! Trivago) Nary a bed could be found. A farmer was kind enough to let them stay in his barn, that was probably more like a cave, where she gave birth. Just her, a 14 (ish) year old who had never been with a man, and her betrothed. Having a baby. All by themselves. Let the messiness of that sink in afresh….though there’s nothing afresh about the smells in a barn.
Oh wait, the cattle were lowing so they weren’t by themselves.
Right there in the middle of that messiness…Perfection. For unto us a child is born…and it changed everything.
No. Norman Rockwell ain’t my daddy. Instead I have a Father who loves me enough to send His One and Only. This Babe born in Bethlehem becomes Christ crucified on the cross. He is…
Wonderful Counselor when I don’t know what to do.
Mighty God when I feel weak and need muscle.
Everlasting Father when I feel abandoned and unloved.
Prince of Peace in the middle of mayhem. (Isaiah 9:6)
That’s what Christmas is all about.
We saw my step-dad a few years later, after the divorce and before his passing. Oddly enough it was at a Christmas candlelight service at our old church. He looked awful. All the drinking had caught up with him. He now had a trach, his face was mutilated and swollen from the surgery, chemo and radiation for head and neck cancer. But there was something about him. A peace. I believe he got it. He got the true meaning of Christmas. And his soul felt its worth.
Jesus sees us my sweet friend. Right here. In all our imperfections.
It’s why He came.