One of our family’s favorite TV shows is called The Middle. It features a family of five in Orson, Indiana. They are very middle class, very much in the middle of the country, and very much in the middle when it comes to talent and treasure. Their mom works hard just to keep it together and each episode features this family going through very ordinary circumstances and humorously pointing out the faults and failures of parents and kids. They’re just like us which is why I like them so much. The appliances don’t work or the car breaks down and there never seems to be enough time or money to deal with any of it.
On one episode, Frankie Heck, the mom, is excitedly expecting her son, Axl, to return home for Christmas after being away at college for his first semester. She tries to make it all perfect, having planned all sorts of family activities, buying his favorite foods and dreaming of just the perfect family Christmas with their family reunited around the tree they shopped for together while drinking hot cocoa and wearing matching outfits. But Axl storms through the door, hands his mom a garbage bag of laundry, and announces he’s off to go out with friends. Frankie’s perfectly planned Christmas was anything but.
I like this show because it’s real. It’s normal. It’s how it is for all of us. And if we think about the first Christmas…it’s not too far off. In fact, Mary’s first Christmas was far from ideal. Luke 2:1 starts the Christmas story by saying: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
In those days….what did “those days” look like? They were full of political unrest and oppression. Religious freedom for the Jews was being threatened. Mary and Joseph were forced to register themselves and later forced to flee with their baby because Herod the ruler wanted all babies killed, fearing his power was threatened. On a personal level, those days for Mary were uncertain. She was a young, teenage unwed mother. Her fiancé thankfully had enough faith and obedience to stick by her and believe Mary and the Lord’s message but it still was not the perfect family picture. Those days were not ideal. They weren’t Christmas card worthy.
What do your days look like right now? Christmas can be a particularly hard time of year. Things might be fine but you’re struggling to make it all just “so” with cookies and cocoa and fresh cut trees but no one in your family cares or wants to participate. Maybe you are experiencing loss or loneliness and being misunderstood by your friends or family. Maybe these days for you are worse – your finances, your relationships or your health are threatened. Maybe these days, like Mary’s are just scary and uncertain and you don’t even realize why.
Take comfort that the first Christmas was not ideal. Oh, it was perfect. It was perfectly timed by God and the baby, Himself, was perfect. But that’s about all. The circumstances and the days to come would be difficult for Mary. And we know how the story goes for Mary – at some point Joseph isn’t mentioned, perhaps he passed away early. Later, Jesus is misunderstood and called crazy by His family and run out of town by the neighbors. And finally, Mary would watch her beloved Son hung on a cross for the sins of this world. She would walk away from the cross still not fully understanding the mystery of His resurrection or her own salvation made possible by His sacrifice.
I’d say Mary spent a lot of time in the Middle. One moment, marveling that she carried the Son of God the next fearful, maybe irritated that she had to go on the run…again. One moment, proud of Jesus’ rich spiritual knowledge, the next frustrated and inconvenienced to have to turn back from the caravan to find Him still in the temple teaching. One minute marveling at the miracle of water and wine; the next, doubled over in grief over the scourging, beating, piercing and emptying of His body. Mary knew about extremes but also knew about being in the Middle and having "those days".
We are all like Frankie Heck and Mary living in the Middle and wanting that perfect Christmas. I wonder why we always want that perfect moment. Is it because we are bombarded with Pinterest, pictures of Joanna Gaines' perfect creations and Hallmark Movies? No, I think it's because we are made in the image of God and something in us wants perfection just like He envisioned the world He created. I'm thankful that even though mankind messed it up, God sought to send us the One who could wipe the mess away so one day we will have perfect Christmases in Heaven.