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Perfect Christmas

You know the scenario. The house is decorated with ornaments and nativity sets collected over the years. The tree is a fragrant Scotch pine cut with your own saw on one of those family outings that ended with hot cocoa and buttered popcorn. The gifts are all within your budget, wrapped elegantly and thoughtfully chosen for each of the dozens of people on your list, from your mother in law to the kids' scout leader. All of the Christmas cards are neatly addressed and in the mail with personal notes and current photographs by the first week of December. Warm cookies and fudge fill the kitchen with good smells from the baskets you've prepared to hand out at church.

These are the pictures of perfection that loom over us like commandants, barking behind us to march farther and try harder to achieve a moving target. We are enmeshed in the relentless drive to create the "Perfect Christmas."

The failings are inevitable. Juice spills on the holiday tablecloth before we've even sat down. The pineapple upside down cake that I brought to the caroling party which the six year old was carrying is upside right on the sidewalk. Our daughter is sick and there are fifty people scheduled to arrive in an hour. These problems and a score of variations on the theme have appeared in my path over the years when I least expected it.

I can't figure out why I am still naive enough to be surprised. After all the advent I am celebrating was anything but perfect. Mary's betrothal to Joseph was clouded when he planned to divorce her, until an angel beckoned him otherwise. Perhaps her idea of the "Perfect Wedding" was forfeited in the wake of Divine plans.

She was compelled to travel to Bethlehem in her last weeks of pregnancy, a difficult and uncomfortable journey. There was no one to welcome them, indeed no room anywhere save a cold corner in the straw among the animals.

Even after all these obstacles. the safety of Mary's infant was not assured. Herod's treacherous murder of hundreds of baby boys hovered like a shroud of fear and sorrow all around them as they escaped to a foreign country.

Could anyone dare to christen this, the first, a "Perfect Christmas"? On a barometer of external safety, palatial accommodations or local popularity, the coming of Christ was a dismal disappointment. There were no parades, no parties, and probably no hot cocoa. Yet measured in terms of the invisible, the ineffable, this Child's entrance into our imperfect world birthed a bridge between the mire of earthly existence and the threshold of celestial shores.