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  • Writer's pictureMary Nolte

Merry Christmas! (Yes, I know it’s January already)

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas picture cards.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love receiving them from other people and seeing those beautiful friends and how their families have progressed throughout the year. But for myself, I can never quite get past the knowledge that that snapshot of my family’s smiling faces is just not a very accurate representation of life as it actually is. Often caught amidst the mayhem that tells the real story, they are perfect in so many ways, those Christmas pictures, but life is…well, it’s just not.

Something was always off in our lives when it came to picture time.

There was the year of the broken arm, where everyone had to be positioned just so to hide the hideous cast. Then there were the years of braces, awkward glasses, bumps and bruises and, of course, the years of the extra 20 or 30 or more pounds that we’d sworn we would lose. Let’s not forget the years of wardrobe malfunction, when that online buy looked like a different color, size, or fit. This year, my youngest thought royal blue was “a neutral color,” and I found myself scrambling for anything that would work, growing more impatient every moment at the dumbfounded look on his face. All these, and so many more, are the manageable setbacks- annoying but not life altering- things that can be photo shopped out or expertly covered, or laughed about for years to come. But what about those other things, those life altering things?

I’ve often thought that if I sent out a Christmas letter, it would begin with George Bailey’s frustrated announcement that it was “another big red -letter day for the Baileys.”

This year, our son joined the military, and I suddenly found myself in a panic as we neared the end of his holiday leave and had no idea when we would all be together again. For some, their kids are headed overseas, with no set plans to return. Twenty years ago, after the death of our young daughter, I thought I would never take another family pic. Eventually, you realize you have to take them and live with the tension that someone is always missing. Some are dealing with a miscarriage, and those arms that were supposed to be full are now painfully empty. Others are still waiting on that adopted child to finally come home and had to send out yet another picture card without them. Perhaps you are dealing with a debilitating illness that you just cannot bring yourself to record in a picture, or you are mourning a prodigal who could not or would not make the family pic as a result of drugs, jail, rehab, or all three. And then there are those whose families have been torn by divorce, and suddenly, they have no idea how to make that family pic work again.

Our family has dealt with more than our share of these life altering, picture ruining situations, and I think that’s why I lamented to my husband this year that I just wish everyone would go back to sending the traditional Christmas cards.

Remember those? The beautiful foiled pictures of serene winter scenes and reminders that the promised Savior had come. You see, that baby in a manger is a constant. The Christ will always be there, the incarnation a reality that cannot be diminished or undone by our constantly changing realities.

The Light of the World cannot be extinguished by the darkness you may be experiencing this year.

The fact that God became flesh and dwelt among us and then willingly gave that flesh to redeem us from sin and sickness and the grave is a truth that repairs the roots of the struggling sinner. It is a story that could not be made up, a moment in time that has affected eternity past, present, and future in a way that none of us can fully grasp. That smile you see on my face is not because I have achieved the perfect family or moment, but rather because, in our imperfection, I know we have the hope of the gospel. So, even though I know Christmas is technically over, I have to start the new year with the hope of the nativity.

Because we never get past the gospel.

We always need the Christ child to be the mediator for our messy lives. As my 3-year-old granddaughter so sweetly put it when she prayed for our New Year’s meal, “God, thank you for Jesus dying on the cross.” Because we are all in a flawed family. We are all disabled by disappointment and severed by sin, but we are all invited to the manger, to behold Jesus and to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28)

And I desperately need His rest, because even though I can expertly orchestrate a beautiful, almost perfect family portrait, I cannot fix the brokenness we face every day. Only God can do that.


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