Picture Christmas

Pastor Scott Hannon and family

It was about 20 degrees. It wasn’t snowing, but the wind was blowing enough that it seemed like it was. We didn’t have hats or mittens – they weren’t “allowed.” We wore light jackets and designer shoes. Our feet were freezing. Snot endlessly dripped from our kids’ noses. My ears were beat red. My wife’s hands were icicles. We were cranky, overwhelmed, frustrated and stressed.

We were at a family photo shoot. Unprepared and underdressed we powered through as best we could. Naturally, tempers flared up. My kids cried. My wife and I grew discouraged. The photographer tried to remain patient, but obviously grew tired of our family and the situation.

We found ourselves in this despondent position because we were trying to capture the perfect photo for our Christmas card. We had dreamed and planned to take our photo in mild fall weather. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had a different idea. Our hope was that we would capture the perfect image of our family – an image that captured us in the woods smiling brightly with eyes that beamed and a posture that proclaimed:

We’re the Hannon’s and we have it all together!

Regrettably, when the pictures came back they told a different story. They showed squabbling sisters and a crying son. We saw parents who were trying to portray peace, but obviously felt overwhelmed. In one of my favorite photos from this “album of flops” my son John is surrounded by the rest of us. We’re all clearly forcing smiles and laughter. He is in the middle of us looking terrified, with eyes that scream: get me out of here!

In hindsight I’m not quite sure why we put ourselves through that ordeal… Other than the simple and vain notion that sometimes we all feel pressured to portray the best version of ourselves to the world.

I got to thinking about that Christmas card experience as I set up our manger scene at church earlier this week. Despite its age, our crèche at church is amazingly crisp, cute and clean. Everyone is happy. Even the animals are relaxed and poised.

And yet, as I read and reflect on the Christmas story it strikes me as anything but perfect and peaceful. The truth of that first Christmas is that there is a shadow side we rarely see. The shepherds were terrified. The wise men had to get out of town because Herod was after them. The Holy Family took respite in a barn before fleeing to Egypt as refugees. Herod slaughtered innocent children in his quest to quell Christ. People were scared, worried and stressed. They were frustrated, underdressed and unprepared.

I can’t imagine how many shots it would have taken before a photographer could capture the image of peace we seem to see so much. The truth is, their situation was messy and chaotic.

Just like ours.

God sent his son into the world as a gift to the broke and broken not the all-put-together and okay. God gifted the world with Christ because of our depravity and despondence, not our worthiness and class. Jesus’ entry into the world was an entry into our sorrows, our pain, our shame, and our grief. He came as light shining in the darkness; he didn’t come to offer a pat on the back for a job well done.

You may feel tempted this holiday season to be all things to all people or project the best image of yourself to all the world. You may even go great and silly lengths to do so. At times like that consider the nativity scene with fresh eyes. See the mess. See the chaos. See the brokenness. See the hurt. See the fear. And, above all, see Christ right there in the middle of it all.

Merry Christmas,

For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.