by Becca Ehrlich
Reading: Colossians 3:14-15
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Every year as a child and teen, my extended family got together on Christmas Day. We would eat, laugh, play games, open presents, and spend time together as a family on the holiday. Plans and preparations for this event started months in advance, with each family unit contributing food, drinks, presents, and other materials needed for the celebration.
Our Christmas get-togethers didn’t always go according to plan, though. One year, there was an emergency room visit after a snow globe exploded in my little cousin’s hands. A different year, there was a huge blizzard on Christmas, stranding all of us at my aunt’s house overnight and forcing us to sleep on whatever surfaces were available. But one specific Christmas gets the award for the craziest “not-according-to-plan” story, ever.
While opening Christmas presents, my family had a fun tradition. My Dad would have a big garbage bag ready. After unwrapping a present, we would ball up the wrapping paper and throw it at the garbage bag my Dad held open, basketball-style. If the wrapping paper made it into the bag, we would all cheer.
That one Christmas, I had just finished opening a present that was wrapped in sparkly tissue paper. I balled the tissue paper up and threw it towards the garbage bag like I usually did with wrapping paper. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that tissue paper is much less heavy than typical wrapping paper, which meant that the tissue paper did not travel as far when I threw it. Rather than landing near the garbage bag, it landed directly on a lit candle on the table in front of me.
The tissue paper immediately went up in flames with a big WOOSH. Everyone stared at it, paralyzed with fear. My Grandpa, trained in the military for emergencies, ran to the candle and scooped up the on-fire tissue paper with his bare hands before anything else around it could catch on fire. He turned with the precision of a Marine and bolted as fast as he could. As he passed by one of my young cousins, she started shrieking and crying in fear as the fireball went by her face.
In just a matter of seconds, Grandpa made it to the non-carpeted entryway and threw the tissue paper fireball on the ground, stomping the fire out with his feet. We all sat there in stunned silence. The only sound left beside the stomping of my Grandpa– as he made sure the fire was completely out– was my cousin, who was still shrieking and crying from her brush with the fire.
That Christmas was far from picture-perfect. After the immediate danger of fire was over, it took over an hour before we could continue our celebration– but we never fully recovered the joyful Christmas mood we had that day before tissue paper-gate.
You may not have a tissue paper fireball situation on your hands this Christmas, but we can all relate to things not going according to plan at holiday time. Consumer culture can make us feel like we have to have the perfect Christmas, with the perfect tree, perfect lights, perfect food, and perfect presents.
But our world is not perfect. We are not perfect. Our Christmas will probably not be perfect.
What our Christmas can be: full of love, peace, and thankfulness. When the world or our own human brokenness messes up our plans, we can rest assured that when we clothe ourselves with love, we are bound together in perfect harmony. Jesus gives us a peace that the world cannot give, and we can be thankful for Jesus and one another.
When things don’t go according to plan this Christmas, remember what is most important: Jesus is with us as we act with love, peace, and thankfulness. What a Christmas gift!
Becca Ehrlich is an ELCA pastor. She blogs about minimalism from a Christian perspective at www.christianminimalism.com and her book, Christian Minimalism: Simple Steps for Abundant Living, was released in May 2021. She is passionate about helping folks connect with God and live more simply, in ways that make sense for their own life contexts.