Christmas is not supposed to be like this.

nativity scene

Christmas is not supposed to be like this: The floors never got mopped. The cookies never got baked. There’s some kind of green crust on the wall in the downstairs bathroom that keeps growing back even after you scrub it with bleach. And don’t forget, you certainly shouldn’t have to work night shift on such a special celebration.

Christmas is not supposed to be like this: You didn’t have money to buy a nice roast for dinner. It’s instant mashed this year, because unemployment just ran out three weeks ago. Your heart breaks because the kids’ gifts are from the dollar store, thrift store, or the “giving tree” program of some church.

Christmas is not supposed to be like this: Your kid is not supposed to be in Europe, the ICU, or Afghanistan on Christmas. Your daughter is not supposed to be in jail. You’re not supposed to be in jail. You’re not supposed to be homeless. You’re supposed to have a warm house with clean sheets, or at least an overpass to keep the rain off and the wind down.

Christmas is not supposed to be like this: You’re supposed to get together at a joyful holiday party with a loving family who wants you safe and healthy and who would protect you from anyone who threatens otherwise. You’re not supposed to be triggered by memories of incest at everybody else’s fond Christmas recollections. And that family is supposed to believe you, not your abuser, when you tell what happened all those years ago. Your abuser is the one who should be getting left out, not you.

Christmas is not supposed to be like this: Your mother, father, son, daughter, cousin, aunt, uncle, best friend was not supposed to have died of cancer. Or blood clots. Or be present but lost to Alzheimer’s. Or have committed suicide. Or be MIA in some foreign war you don’t even know why we’re in it.

Christmas is not supposed to be like this: You should be able to stroll warmly and freely and into Mass on Christmas day, not be scandalized by a priest who turned you away or turned on you. The Catholic Church should bring you comfort, not conflict.

Christmas is not supposed to be like this: A Tiny Prince is supposed to be born in a clean place, with clean cloths and hot water and plenty of string and a good, sharp knife. His laboring mother should be made comfortable on the best cushions the world has to offer, surrounded by her supportive family, competent medical staff, a doula, and a lactation consultant. The husband should be given a chair to sit in when his feet grow tired from pacing, and at the very least he should get a hot cup of coffee. Once the Child is delivered, He deserves a gentle, warm bath, a soft diaper, and a quiet place for a first (and, of course, easy) nursing session. He certainly deserves better than a filthy stable, scratchy straw, and nobody to help out but a handful of sheep-poop smeared pastorals. That braying donkey over there certainly should shut up and stop waking the baby. And the manure—have we mentioned the manure?

Christmas isn’t supposed to be like this, so come to the manger. In fact, if your Christmas is not the way it’s supposed to be, all you have to do is open your eyes. You’re already there.

Emmanuel—God is with us in our world, even in its wrongness. If we open our eyes to see Him, really see Him in all the people around us, we’ll see something amazing. We’ll see that we are all, every last one of us, at the manger together. We don’t have to talk right now. The Baby is sleeping. But maybe, just maybe, when He wakes, we can spare a smile at each other, see how we ourselves have made others’ Christmases something less than they were supposed to be. And then, maybe, just maybe, we can join with Him and make things right. You can forgive in silence. You can take full responsibility in silence. Make those rough places plain. Resurrect Christmas. After all, He didn’t come just to experience the not-supposed-to-be. He came to give us better than we imagined. All we have to do is follow Him there, from the manger, to the cross, to the grave, to eternal life.

Merry Christmas. I’ll see you at the manger.

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