Being Kept by Christmas

It’s been a mostly tradition-less Christmas season for us. No advent calendar, no Jesse Tree, no marathon cookie-baking sessions or anything like that. I’ve gotten by with the bare minimum: A simple tree and a garlandy mantle {that sheds}, cake-mix cookies, and store-bought gifts for loved ones. 

The Man and I have nursed sick kids, packed, unpacked, and packed again. We’ve traveled and shopped, enjoyed time with far-away family, and forayed through the usual chaos that comes with holiday schedules and kids and did I mention sickness?

Short on intentionality and long on practicality, this season begged me to throw off tradition guilt and make peace with reality. It’s been a year of crazy and sorrow and change, a year that’s coming to a close with loose ends, not a neatly tied-up bow.  

And I’m feeling like I need Christmas more than ever. 

Though I haven’t done much in the way of keeping Christmas, I’m finding solace in the comforting reality that Christmas is still keeping me. 

It’s not about the perfectly executed traditions or the bounding sense of merriment we muster up no matter what. It’s not about the ways in which we make meaning of the true meaning of Christmas or whether our kids really “get it.” 

{Because who are we kidding, they don’t. And that’s okay. They are, after all, just kids and their sense of wonder and belief and giddy anticipation is beautiful…even if it’s a bit misplaced.}

There was one sort-of tradition, however, that my kids and I did keep this year. I read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever for the second year in a row. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. One of my teachers read it to us in grade school and I never forgot it. 

My kids and I laugh at all the same parts and I cry at the end every. single. time. They look with bewilderment at my tear-streaked face and ask why Imogene Herdman playing the part of Mary and holding a plastic Baby Jesus doll always makes me cry. 

I guess it’s just the sweet irony and the realness and the perfectly reverent irreverence of the whole manger scene. 

I love the book even more today than I did as a kid but for different reasons. If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about a small-town Christmas pageant that’s basically hijacked by the worst kids in the town, the Herdmans. They’re a gang of siblings who cuss their teachers and smoke cigars in the girls’ bathroom and steal from the offering plate.

They don’t know the first thing about Baby Jesus or Mary or wicked King Herod or anything. But in a crazy turn of events, they end up playing all the key characters in the town Christmas pageant and well, the title of the book pretty much sums up the rest.

I’m not sure if the author intended it, but to me, it’s the most perfect presentation of the Gospel of Grace in any Christmas story I’ve ever read. 

The worst kids in the town get the story and the pious church folks don’t. The dirty kids don’t try to clean themselves up before they come into the manger scene and the righteous church people just want to keep them out. 

But Jesus has a way of turning tradition and religion on its head and making it safe for everyone–the righteous and the unrighteous, the clean and the dirty, the grown-ups and the kids–to simply come.

And this year more than ever, I need an invitation to simply come.

I don’t bring my togetherness or traditions or goodness. I don’t bring answers or clarity or strength. 

This year I come to find rest, laying my weary head at the feet of Immanuel, God with Us, the One who has already come and brought with Him everything that I need.

Everything that you need.

Everything that the whole world needs.


For to us a child is born, 
   to us a son is given, 
   and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called 
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, 
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6


  1. says

    Just saw that you had a new post . . . with a 2000-year-old message. In the middle of the traditions, it is oh-so-easy to lose the ever-new reality: grace arrived and we must never forget it, or over-swaddle it with our ideas of how to celebrate it.

    Poignant reminder, dear.


  2. says

    This was beautiful. And exactly what I needed to read this Christmas eve.

    Love your writing and depth and honesty and realness.

    Merry Christmas.


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