At some point yesterday, I looked at the Mr. and said "this. is. such. a mess." And he replied, "What, the house? Christmas? Life?"
"Yes," I said.
True to our convictions, we had saved tree decorating until Christmas Eve and the house was a riot of tissue paper, cardboard boxes, and strings of unlit lights. The kids had already set up an entire town of train tracks and little people houses in the living room but had abandoned them in the excitement of looking through Christmas ornaments, trying to find the ones with their names on them. Plus, I had a whole season's worth of baking to do in the kitchen and true to my personal style I had used pretty much every bowl and utensil that I own in the process. The pork stew in the crock pot was popping and sputtering in the corner and, as I discovered later, spitting little beads of fatty broth all over the coffee pot and the wall behind it. The trash can in the middle of the floor was almost overflowing with empty egg cartons, butter wrappers and onion skins.
And ready or not, Christmas was coming. The gifts we had agonized over were still unwrapped; I had a nagging feeling that the stockings were going to look awfully empty; the church's Christmas Eve service loomed ever nearer, and I still hadn't showered. The questions echoed in my head: "Would our reluctant oldest actually stand up with the rest of the kids in front of the church and sing 'Away in a Manger'?" [answer: yes, reluctantly] "Would the restless youngest actually make it through the service without having to go to the bathroom and/or creating a disturbance while his mother was playing the piano and his father was doing his pastor job?" [answer: no] The Mr. was downstairs practicing the evening's meditation and I was throwing plates and bowls on the table, thinking we probably should light candles or something, but not wanting the bother. All my good ideas about doing Christmas eve "right" (whatever that means) were tossed out the window in the rush to get the kids dressed and all of us out the door in time.
As we flew out the door, I had just enough time to put the leftover stew in a container and toss the corn muffins in a bag, leaving the table uncleared and the dishes unwashed in the sink. And I thought, "yup, this is just about how my life feels right now, like it's a chaos of good intentions mixed with poor organization and a lot of detritus to clean up later. My frustrations with myself and others pile up like dirty bowls and spoons; my doubts feel as jagged and forlorn as the empty egg shells on the counter. I am a tangle of contradictions and second thoughts, of spikes of hope and plummets of depression. It might as well be the fourth of July for as ready as I feel to celebrate the birth of Christ. Indeed, life feels pretty messy right now."
It wasn't until hours later, after the story was rehearsed, after the songs were sung and candles were lit down the rows of the church, after the children were nestled all snug in their beds, and I was in my pajamas, elbow deep in warm sudsy dishwater, that I realized: if I have to wait until I'm "ready" for Christmas, until all the mess is cleared away and my life is swept clean, Christmas will never come. My life will be always winter, never Christmas. The glory of it is that Christ comes to the mess, in the midst of the mess, in spite of the mess. And he comes to laugh with us at our own folly, to weep with us in our utter sadness, to encourage us in our fearful darkness, to groan with us in our wordless agonies. The glorious, impractical, beautiful, foolish truth of it is that we are not in this awful mess alone.
"If you're going to 'come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel,'" I prayed, "you're gonna have to watch your step, because it's kind of a disaster around here. But you're welcome anyway. You're very, very welcome."