Being perfect not necessary
It’s that time of the year again when mailboxes are flooded with the most precious Christmas cards and postcards that are covered in pictures of sweet families posed for Christmas. The outfits are matching, and not a single hair is out of place. If there is a hair out of place, the amazing photographers edit it right out of the photos.
In reality there is quite a bit edited out of Christmas card photos. Being a frequent beach goer year round, it is not unusual to see families parade onto the beach at all times of the year for those Christmas card pictures.
I am reminded of a family that was on the beach one afternoon at sunset this past summer, and it was hot outside. There they stood, a family in their khaki pants, long sleeve matching gray sweaters, with neatly pressed white collared shirts underneath them. It was two middle school aged boys, a mom, a dad, and a patient photographer. The mother was insisting on getting a photo of just the two boys and saying, “Scoot closer, just please pretend to like each other. I just need one good photo.” The photographer was saying that they maybe should get a group shot all together first, because the boys did not want to even stand next to each other.
Heeding the photographer’s instructions, they reshuffled through the sand to reorient themselves as a family for a photo. The boys started swatting each other on the arm, and that is when dad stepped in to intervene. He calmly explained that their mom had taken time to organize this, they were wasting the photographer’s time, and they just needed a good photo for the Christmas cards. Mom was wiping her brow from sweating in the sweater. Then she started fixing everyone’s hair like a mother hen. After that was done, the photographer told them to really smile, and so they plastered fake smiles on their faces. It was finally done.
As a l watched this scene unfold, I thought about how that whole scenario is probably more the norm for families and Christmas cards. Families are messy. Sometimes family members are at odds with each other and don’t even want to stand next to each other. Sometimes we are holding our tongues trying not to explode when we see people in our own family being immature. Sometimes we are the ones trying to keep the peace, wanting everyone to just get along, and for no hairs to be out of place. Sometimes we are waiting patiently to catch a glimpse of the beauty of the season. Sometimes we are walking by others seeing the chaos from the outside and thankful to just be wearing what you want to wear not an ugly sweater picked out by someone else.
The actual birth story of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke may present itself from a pulpit like a Christmas card, perfect in every way. In reality, though, there was drama involved, and it was messy. Everything from angel announcements, a pregnant teen, a betrothal almost broken, traveling while pregnant, a census taken, a baby born in a manger, a birth arrival shower full of random stinky shepherds, a King feeling his throne threatened by a baby, shining stars, and wise men with gifts. That is not your picture perfect family beginning narrative. However, maybe it was perfect. The whole mission was for God to be with us. Even in Jesus’ chosen name “Emmanuel,” He was to fulfill His promise to be with us then and be with us now.
With Christmas cards, the entire purpose is to let someone know that we are “with them” — with them even when we are not able to be physically with them. In truth, I would say that half of the people who send me cards like that I have seen them with hairs out of place and just being present. It’s ok to just be present. Jesus was and is present today, and that is our job, too. Quit worrying about appearing perfect, and just be perfectly present.
Caroline Hare is the youth minister at Destin United Methodist Church.