IT WAS GOING to be a perfect Christmas. With jokes about looking out of the cabin window for Santa’s sleigh somewhere over the Atlantic, we’d gotten a great deal on overnight flights departing Orlando on December 24. We would land in England on Christmas morning, marking my first holiday with family there in more than a quarter-century.
And then it all went partridge-in-a-tree-that-should-yield-a pear-shaped mess. An 11th-hour medical emergency forced Marcia to stay behind to look after a relative here, and I ended up traveling alone. Just me and a few other sad sacks on an almost empty plane, while she sat in a Florida hospital ward.
Disappointment and jet lag left me feeling a bit disoriented as I got into my rental car and headed to visit family in the English dawn. The streets were empty as I found myself driving though my old hometown. Past the homes of friends where, as a teenager, we’d gathered after Christmas to compare the LPs we’d received as gifts and dream about the coming year.
Then Greg Lake’s classic “I Believe in Father Christmas” came on the car radio, and a wave of emotion washed over me. I felt like I’d been pitched back in time to those years. I could almost taste the youthful, naive optimism I’d held about the future. Now, it was soured slightly by the unexpected bumps and bruises I’d experienced in the intervening years.
Like my Christmas trip, life hasn’t always gone quite the way I’d expected.
We’ve probably all got at least one story of the year that Christmas went horribly wrong—and, actually, in some ways there’s something very right about that. Because, marvelous as it was, the first Christmas wasn’t perfect, either. Certainly not for Joseph and Mary, ordered around by an occupying army and scraping the bottom of the Airbnb barrel for accommodations.
Nor was it a nice, bow-wrapped moment in a cosmic sense. Yes, the Savior had been born, but this was just the opening sentence in the great story of redemption that God was writing. It was the promise, not the fulfillment. There was more to come. Bringing it to completion would involve blood, sweat, and sacrifice.
Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing if our Christmas doesn’t turn out exactly the way we had hoped or imagined. It may remind us that Bethlehem was a beachhead, not an armistice. The lullaby before the storm. So I wish you an imperfect Christmas. One that leaves you grateful for what you do have, but looking up hopefully for the more that has yet to come.