Even without a glance at the calendar, or the presence of turkey leftovers, it's obvious that December 1 has arrived for the Doe family. The children's love for one another has become easy to observe. There is shouting only when one child is eager to share with another an exciting secret of the season. Each child does more than his or her part to make the household run smoothly. Steve and I are patiently planning enjoyable family times together, while we finish the last of the Christmas cards and prepare to mail our lovingly chosen gifts to our relatives. The house fills with the fragrance of sugar cookies and with the sound of Christmas carols as all six of us decorate our freshly cut tree....
Thank you for not laughingat least, not too much. But how many of you haven't, at some time in your life, had a similar fantasy for the holiday season? The reality of our lives always falls far short of what we desire.
One year, reality hit an uncomfortable low for the Does the week before Thanksgiving while we were waiting for my father to be placed in a nursing home. A driver hit the side of our parked van while Steve was in it, waiting to pick up our two oldest children at school. That ended our plans to visit Steve's brother in New Mexico. We ached to connect with family in person. News of my father-in-law's radiation treatments intensified the ache. I clung with tenacity to the sovereignty of God when anger at the motorist, who had wrecked both our car and our plans, threatened to overwhelm me. I reminded myself that God is in control, even when everything seems to testify to the contrary. By God's grace, my expectations began to shrink to be more in line with reality.
Then I made a startling discovery. Perhaps my expectations for the Christmas season (or for any other time of family togetherness) and the picture-perfect scene described above were not too great after all, but rather were not great enough. James 1:17 tells us that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." His gifts are always perfectly good.
When I read Elizabeth Elliot's words in her book A Path through Suffering, I learned more about what God wants for me: "Each time God gives us a hard lesson He desires also to give us Himself. If we open our hands to receive the lesson we open our hearts to receive Him."
It's not Christmas card perfection, but the perfection of the Savior, that God wants to lavish on us. Jesus Christ is the truly "indescribable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15)! The external niceties are not necessary to celebrate Christmas. In fact, when some of them are stripped away, we can see better that Jesus Christ alone is all-sufficient.
The author is the wife of Pastor Stephen D. Doe of Covenant OPC in Barre, Vt. Reprinted from New Horizons, December 2001.