On December 26th, I usually find myself sorting through new and old toys, cleaning up messes, squeezing one more bag of trash into the garbage can, and feeling a little let down that the holiday has passed. This year, I spent a what felt like forever but was only really an hour feeding my son Cheerios and a bottle in the back seat of the car while holding his hand to keep him from screaming all the way home from his Grandma’s house. My primary love language is giving and receiving gifts, so the flurries of giving and receiving that surround Christmas time fill up my emotional “tank”, but social events, travel, and busyness exhaust me at the same time.
I have always struggled with a post-Christmas feeling of disappointment; of buildup to a “glorious event” and then let down after it’s passed. That struggle is rooted in improper priorities when my heart focuses on gifts, expectations, parties, services, and time with family instead of on Christ and a reluctance to withdraw from festivities when I need an emotional break. Advent preparation resources have blessed me tremendously in the past few years but I still struggle. Shouldn’t my Christmas be sparkly and perfect and not let me down? All the songs and stories I read make me think that that’s what Christmas should be. The first Christmas seems like it should have been picture perfect when I don’t think about it carefully.
In reality, Mary and Joseph had been through so much leading up to the birth which the angel foretold: angelic visitations, unplanned and unwed pregnancy in a conservative society, suspicion of infidelity and plans for divorce, marriage and abstinence from physical intimacy, and after all of that, traveling out of town to a crowded city to be counted in a census at the end of a full term pregnancy.
When Mary actually delivered Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, she was far from home and her people. After Christ was born and the shepherds left, instead of the tranquil scenes we’re given in paintings and stories where even the cows held their breath in wonder, life kept going. Animals in the stable most likely were still there after Christ was born and continued to do what they normally do: make noise, eat, and make manure. Mary had to care for a newborn in overflow housing in a crowded city and eventually travel with him all the way home. She had to figure out how to feed him and care for her spent body after delivery; how to carve out a new rhythm as the mother of her people’s Messiah who was very much a helpless baby.
Praise God that He sent His Son into the thick of our mess and in the mire of our reality.
If you find yourself disappointed after the sparkle of Christmas passes, I pray that you would find relief in the fact that Christmas was just the beginning of the miraculous fulfillment of ancient prophesy to pay the price for the sin that separates us from a Holy God. This event was planned from the beginning of time, and it was far from the end of a story. You are in good company if you feel like gifts and decorations and parties fall short of expectation because they are not the point. Christmas marks the beginning of the life of Christ who lived an actual life after He was born. After the anticipation of delivering Jesus came to a halt all at once, the story had just begun to unfold.
I pray that we all approach the after Christmas period in light of the fact that Christmas happened; but was only the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise.