I have been considering the advantages and disadvantages that digital technology brings us. On the one hand we have access to instant photos that we can scrutinise, edit or delete and share immediately with friends and family.
In the ‘old days’ we used to need to wait to complete a full roll of film before taking it to a processing location which could take days before they would be ready to collect. When you looked through them, there would inevitably be some photos that were out of focus, or someone had an odd expression. We would choose to display them anyway as they were the only record we had.
I’ve been wondering if we miss out now. We end up living, or believing we need to live, a picture perfect life. If all the pics we share are only the very best ones we can give the illusion that life is always awesome.
Think about what it can mean at Christmas. I love all the magazines with the amazing Christmas feasts, or the lifestyle shows with beautifully decorated trees and tables. I don’t know about you, but whenever I try to replicate them I discover I either can’t afford it, or can’t pull it off to the same standard.
Then I see my social media friends with their amazing photos and I can feel inadequate. I waste time playing the comparison game and not recognizing the amazing thing that is my own family and the memories we are making. Christmas is definitely a time when we can suffer from the desire to be picture perfect.
I’ve also been thinking about the way we portray the very first Christmas. It can also suffer from picture perfect syndrome. Think about it, What do we see? Usually thanks to Christmas cards and lyrics of carols. We see new parents with their first born child lying quietly as other random visitors come and reverently kneel and offer gifts. Not to mention the untethered animals placed in the scene. No stress, no chaos, just a picture perfect scene.
But this was far from a picture perfect scenario. Bethlehem was full of people, so much so that Mary and Joseph couldn’t stay in a house, they were relegated to the barn. And you can’t tell me that they were the only ones unable to find accommodation, so I imagine that there were a number of people crammed into every available space, including their transport animals.
There is a line in the second verse of the carol ‘Away in a Manger’ and one of the lines is ‘the cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little lord Jesus no crying he makes.’ He may have been the Son of God but I’m pretty sure he cried when he woke up. And he was lying in the animals feed trough. I can see the animals vying for a nibble at the hay he was lying in and Mary and Joseph having to fend them off all night.
And don’t get me started on the smell!
This situation was not the picture perfect, sanitized event that we’ve come to believe. And God knew that, and still chose to send his son into that space. The Bible tells me Jesus would be known as ‘Emmanuel’ which means ‘God with us’.
Why? Because God doesn’t wait for the picture perfect to happen before he engages with us. Otherwise he would be waiting for a really, really long time. He chooses to be with us in the imperfect, in the mess, in the stress, in the chaos, in the broken. He did it then, he does it now. In fact, for me, when my life feels like it’s at its worst is when I sense God’s presence the most.
My prayer for each of us is that no matter what is happening in your life right now, no matter what your Christmas looks like, whether it’s picture perfect or something that is akin to a full scale disaster with the sounds and smells to match, you will be able to recognize that God is willing to be with you in the midst of it. That you will feel his presence and know that he is right beside you all the way.
If you want to know more about what this looks like, let me encourage you to speak to someone from any of your local churches. I know they would be happy to help you discover and hold on to the hope that Jesus brings.
May God bless you this Christmas season.