Last Christmas we were broke. Really broke. I was home all day with two toddlers, mourning a baby who would have been due at Christmas, and pregnant with another due in the spring. Christmas was not fun. It wasn’t even sweetly sentimental like when the Ingalls family got excited over tin cups and sweet potatoes. It was a difficult, stressful month, and I was relieved when it was over. But in the midst of the really, really hard-and-not-fun, there was, indeed, joy. And my kids were the ones who showed it to me.
My kids thought last Christmas was fabulous. The neighbors had lights on their houses and big obnoxious blow up singing snowmen and bears. We got to take a walk every evening and visit them. We bought a little tree—I’m quite sure I could have taken it in a wrestling match—and we hung ornaments on it, and the 2 1/2 year old declared daily, “Look at our big, beautiful tree!” We did some simple crafts and read lots of library books about Christmas and danced to holiday music, and it was all the best thing we had ever done and we were happy.
I saw their contentment, and how so much of what I wanted to do and buy was to to fulfill MY expectations, not theirs. But I didn’t give up on making it special, either. I wanted an “Advent Angel” to hide and have them find each morning with the next part of the Christmas story. So I found a Pinterest pattern and made one out of material I already had. We sold most of hubby’s pre-marriage DVD collection—and quite a few other things—and used the money to buy gifts for our extended family. And for my daughter, hubby made a doll bed and I made tiny pillows and a quilt, and I dressed a $3 Goodwill rescue doll in a silk ballgown made from an old bridesmaid’s dress and a velvet cape and muff made from another dress I no longer wore.
Learning to be content and learning to be creative were important, but even more, my children helped make the holiday more truly Christ-centered to me than it had been in years. Because it was so clear to them that was why we were celebrating. It was Jesus’ birthday. And that was enough. Totally unprompted, I watched my 2 1/2 year old pull her rocking horse from door to door in our house, knocking and looking for a room for Baby Jesus. She wrapped up her beloved stuffed “Duckie” in blankets and put him in the “sweet warm hay.” She learned the angel’s song and invited us to come see the baby in the manger.
In my children’s innocent, perfect worship, Christmas became real to me, too. It occurred to me the depth of desperate longing Mary must have felt to make her Son’s birth better. Talk about the birth plan not working out! This was God’s Son and all his earthly parents could muster was a dim stable and a used manger. What must it have felt like to wrap up Divinity in some used rags and put him in a barn? There must have been some disappointment, some sadness that they couldn’t give him more and better. Yet Baby Jesus slept contentedly—and if any child in the world ever did have the ability to know that it could have been grander, it was Him! The Heavenly Father sent out a celestial birth announcement. Mary and Joseph’s pitiful “best” was enough for Him, and He is enough for us. Even when we can’t give our children the grand experiences and great presents that we wish, we can tell them about a Child who left all of that behind to come and be Immanuel—God with us--in our poverty, our difficulty, our desperation, our disappointment, and also our joy.