Christmas Perfection

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6)

So much of our preparation for Christmas comes with specific ideals and expectations.  The cookies must be baked exactly to grandma’s recipe. The decorations must be placed with great care at their traditional place in the home. And the tree, ah yes the tree, must be just perfect. If you are one of those families who enjoys having a live tree, you are well aware that you can spend a significant amount of time inspecting rows of fresh cut pines. Depending how many family members are involved, the final selection can land you in some heated arguments. I once heard a true story about a man who brought home a tree many years ago. When the ladies of the house scrutinized his selection, they pointed out what they considered to be many imperfections. The gentleman took the tree outside, got an axe, and made firewood out of it. He vowed he’d never shop for the family tree again. He was true to his word!

Jesus once spoke about perfection, as a man asked what good deed he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded that he should keep the commandments. The man replied that he felt he had done so, and then asked what more he was lacking. “Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:16-21). We say we want perfection, but we are not always willing to seek it nor are we able to achieve it. However, many well-meaning people continue to strive for this impossible goal. They have somehow convinced themselves that to be acceptable requires that they will measure up to a personal or societal standard, whatever that might imply. This mindset brings stress especially at this time of year, and it can only lead to discontent and frustration. But the very fact that we seek perfection is an indication of our longing for something beyond what this world provides. Yet ultimately, perfectionism often involves raising the bar to absurd heights and striving by our own efforts for that which only God is able to do.

Perhaps the Christian church has not helped this mindset. They quote scriptures like this one: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) This has been one of the most misunderstood and troubling passages in the entire Bible, because it presents as problematic for every single person.  How can fallen mankind ever achieve perfection?  The Apostle Paul wrote: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom 3:23). But thanks to His grace, our imperfections will never override God’s promises. Isn’t it interesting that when we find ourselves farthest from Him, that is when He comes to us? We don’t come worthy; as a matter of fact, we are often quite demoralized. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us: For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” We are like one of those old-fashioned Christmas ornaments that falls off the tree and breaks into many pieces. We bring all the pieces, broken as we are, and lay them at the feet of Jesus in the manger.  Only He can make us whole again. We must never negate the promise of the long-awaited Messiah, whom they called Immanuel (‘God with us’).

If you are in the process of searching for the perfect gift this Christmas, perhaps you need to realize it is right here waiting for you. A friend once shared that choosing his Christmas tree is never difficult. It’s a tradition that he and his dad used to do together, until his father passed away years before. Now he goes back to the same place where they always bought their tree. Convinced that his father continues to watch over the process, each year a perfect tree stands out shortly after he begins his search. That’s the one he brings home, because dad had it ready for him. Our Heavenly father does the same for each of us. We appear before Him broken, seeking perfection. And He helps us find it in the gifts of grace and salvation. For you see, Christmas does in fact demand perfection . . . and it comes in the form of Jesus.

REFLECTION: In what areas of your life do you practice perfectionism? How is your striving to be perfect negatively affecting others with whom you are close? Would you be able to explain to a person who feels unworthy because of their sins and other imperfections that they gain perfection only through Jesus?

1 thought on “Christmas Perfection


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