I used to measure my childlessness by Christmasses, each year hoping that the next Christmas would bring with it a pregnant belly or a screaming baby, but it didn’t. I would to try find comfort each year by telling myself that maybe next year, things would be different. Maybe next year we would be three instead of two.
I’ve decided to stop measuring Christmas in that way, the dream feels too far off – I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Is it lack of hope or healthy realism? I don’t know. I just know that I can’t make Christmas into that time of year where I expect my hopes for my life to be complete – to be thinner, to be able to play the guitar well, to actually complete the couch to 5k and to finally be a mother and begin creating new memories and family traditions.
Being the wife of a trainee vicar I’m trying to learn more about the church seasons and my favourite is the one we’re in right now – Advent. It’s the big build up to Christmas, it’s a time when we think and talk about waiting, waiting for God to intervene, to produce a plan that would reconcile us to Him, it’s about waiting for Jesus. But I don’t think Christmas day marks the end of that waiting. I don’t think Christmas day is about completion. God never intended for lives to be sorted when Jesus was born, the serene nativity scene we see printed on cards, displayed in ornaments and acted out is nothing like the messy, dark, smelly reality the Son of God actually came into. Born to a poor, unmarried teenage girl, in a strange city, in a shed, surrounded by dirt, animals and the smells they make. God’s entrance into the world was the most beautifully imperfect beginning, so imperfect that many missed it. But if the first Christmas was so messy then why is the build up to Christmas so often fuelled by a drive for perfection? Why do we feel pressured to deliver a better version of ourselves on the 25th of December? For broken relationships to be instantly healed, for the unemployed to lavish loved ones with gifts, for the sick to cook a magnificent roast dinner with all the trimmings, for the single to bring a hottie to the family meal, for the childless to miraculously conceive and for those who are grieving to suddenly be happy.
The birth of Jesus was not the completion of God’s work here on earth, it was the beginning of a new story.
Now I think Mary, Jesus’ mother knew that, she celebrated the news that God had chosen her to give birth to His son, but the promises she rejoiced in weren’t suddenly all realised in that moment when she gave birth in the stable. She knew this was the most significant moment in time but she also knew it was just the beginning. She hadn’t suddenly become rich or powerful or significant by earthly standards. Yes, she was pregnant with God’s child-a miracle!- but her place in society had not changed. The only thing that had changed was her connection with God, the one she cradled in her arms. He had chosen her, a girl ignored by the world she lived in, He had chosen her.
I think Mary’s joy shows us that often this struggle with Christmas can be wrapped up in what we long for – for me, I know I saw a baby as the ultimate goal, my focus, my deepest longing, it sent me crazy and I’m trying to let go of that. Mary celebrated the news of her pregnancy, but she knew this baby wasn’t hers, she was warned of the pain she would suffer because of her son, yet she celebrated because her hope and her joy were not merely wrapped up having this child, her joy came from something far higher and far greater than anything this world could offer her. But what Mary has also shown me is that this struggle with Christmas can also be wrapped up in wanting everything right now. Mary knew she was living in the in-between, that greater things were still yet to come. God, the creator, the writer of this great story, He also knew that perfection, restoration and the realisation of hope were a long way off. Yes, it began with Jesus’ birth, but it was going to take time and pain and sacrifice. So why do we expect perfection on Christmas day? Why does it make this time of year into a painful milestone for those who are living in the life they never wanted?
We are living in the in-between, the not quite yet. So for those who find Christmas a painful reminder of their incompleteness, I believe you are closer to God than you think. Jesus was born into a family that knew about the in-between. Those who were aware of their imperfections, who accepted their incompleteness were the ones who first followed Him, who ate with Him, who talked with Him, who worshipped Him. For me Christmas is now a time to celebrate the imperfect. A time to remember we are living in the in-between. It is a season for the weak, the sick, the poor, the grieving and those who feel left out, because God remembered them. Because they are the people God chose to write this new story with.