I heard my five-year-old niece talking to my wife in the living room. “Ooooooooooh! This one is big! Can I put this one on the Christmas tree?”
Gabby, without looking, said, “Honey, those are the breakable ornaments. The ones for the kids are on the couch. Come over here and…”
Then something stopped my wife in her tracks. She continued.
“Oh. That one? Knock yourself out, kid. Hang away!”
I came around the corner to see little Ava precariously swinging a glass ball the size of a newborn’s noggin on the end of her finger. While Gabby’s eyes filled with hope, I cringed and said,
She delicately hung the ornament on one of the lowest spots on our tree. The branch buckled under the weight and bent down, pointing toward the floor. Luckily, a sturdy needle grasped the ribbon to keep my Christmas treasure from shattering on the ground.
The ornament in question is one I received from a coworker nearly twenty years ago. The woman is a regular Martha Stewart and made gifts for each of her fellow employees every year. The giant glass ball is painted on one side with a bright red and green poinsettia flower. On the other side the WorldCom logo. Yes, I said WorldCom. My former employer. The one whose CEO, Bernie Ebbers, is now doing 25 years in federal prison for masterminding the largest corporate fraud in history.
Which reminds me, I forgot to send him a card.
The ornament was once a clear, gleaming globe, but has now been clouded by years of fingerprints, smudged paint, and a felony conviction. Still, it means something to me. I’m not sure why I like it so much. It doesn’t make any sense, really. I am embarrassed to have the company name on my resume. My meager 401K was decimated when the allegations came to light and the stock tanked. Yet, for some strange reason, I still love the decoration on the tree.
Each year, there is a debate as to where to hang it. If I am the one who comes across it in the box of breakables, I gingerly place it in a prominent spot, only to find it slowly move toward the back of the tree as Jesus’ birth nears. I think Gabby just wants to make sure it’s out of the line of sight of our under-the-tree nativity scene before the Christ Child finally shows up on the 25th.
Might upset the baby.
But each year this Christmas Abomination lives on, along with many other surprising decorations.
Take “Hanta-Santa”, for example.
Hanta Santa is a name I gave to this ornament after finding it had barely survived a rodent attack in the attic. Notice how the hems of his coat and sleeves have been gnawed into a lovely scalloped pattern? Luckily, I was able to tame Kris Kringle’s mild case of Hanta Virus with a healthy dose of pine-scented Lysol and a Silkwood shower. After fifty years of faithful service, you can’t just throw the Jolly Fat Man to the curb because of a frayed coat and contagion, can you?
No way. Not on my watch.
And then there the “Mistle-Toes” – a disturbing display hung in our entry way.
It’s supposed to be an inviting sprig of mistletoe intended to entice yuletide lovers to smooch. Instead, it’s really more of a reminder to Santa to pay his gambling debts, lest the rest of his elves will end up stuffed in a sack like this poor guy. Even though my wife refuses to kiss me within a fifteen foot radius of the Mistle-Toes, it’s still a Christmas tradition.
I know all of these trinkets are an abomination to the Pottery Barn Christmas we see in the catalogs. Heck, they’re so tacky that even the Chuck E. Cheese ticket counter would refuse to give them to a kid trying to spend his Skee-Ball winnings.
But that’s why I love them.
This time of year, every single one of us gets wrapped up in lofty expectations. We have visions of sugarplums and Christmas card photo shoots where everyone gets along. We delight in the promise of the Season. And happy memories flood our senses as we recall Christmases past.
But these memories are sanitized versions of the truth. The fully-edited movies of our lives. And we forget all of those moments that ended up on the cutting room floor. Kids complaining. Stressed-out shoppers. Overbooked schedules. Fussing and fighting. Nope. Those memories somehow got shredded or mis-filed, like incriminating corporate memos, never to be seen again.
That’s where the Christmas abominations come in.
You might think these decorations are a window through which we see our Christmases past. A way to recall happy times and treasured moments. In truth, I think these ugly eyesores are actually a mirror with which to see ourselves. They provide a reflection of reality. Reminders of bad choices. Mistakes. Imperfections. Warts on display.
Perhaps that’s what leads my wife to pack them away every January. Lovingly wrapped in old newspaper, despite how they look. Because deep down we all understand that an annual celebration of the birth of our Savior is no time to start feigning perfection. God did not come down to earth via C-section in a brightly sanitized hospital covered in pristine marble. No. Not even a hotel room. The truth is that a scared young girl gave birth to Jesus in a filthy, drafty, dirt-floor stable filled with flying bits of dust and the smell of manure.
Such an imperfect place for a perfect soul.
But it seems very fitting for a baby who grew into a man who sought out the broken and the lost. The outcast and the afflicted. The poor and the lame. All to show them how God sees their imperfection as a perfect gift.
Love come down.
So each year brings another Christmas miracle. Another chance to see ourselves as God sees us. This year, as you celebrate the Season, I pray that you proudly display your own Christmas abominations to celebrate imperfection. And I also pray that we are all able to see the beauty in the mess. This life that God has given to all of us.
And when the time comes to pack it all away in the attic, I invite you to use a little extra bubble wrap for the least of these. Because all of these imperfections need a soft, forgiving place to rest.
If only for a while.
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