There were only five sterilizing days left before our annual Christmas party, and I was in a frenzy. “Steam-clean the refrigerator!” I cried to a vagrant child, “Then go outside and polish those gutters!” It would be a miracle if we got it all done in time.
“Mom, it’s so unfair!” they moaned. “It’s Christmas vacation and you’re treating us like slaves. This is criminal! This is against our human rights! We are being exploited!”
“Fine. You’re right. And as soon as you polish the light bulbs, you can report me to the United Nations. Now let’s get snapping.” I encouraged.
The holidays make me crazy. Nothing can be clean, shiny, or organized enough. The house must be free of all allergens, down to a molecular level before company arrives. There is no viable option.
My husband does not understand the need for the holiday hullabaloo. He claims that it stresses me out, and we would do just as well to serve a six-foot sandwich and chips on paper plates, and be done with the whole thing.
Obviously, he doesn’t get it. This is, after all, the time of year that we celebrate the birth of Christ. Everything should be just perfect. And yes, I recognize that this is a desperate attempt to achieve some small measure of control during a season of chaos, but I embrace it.
“Okay, Mama,” my oldest child reported, “I sharpened all the pencils in the house. What now?”
“Did you organize the toothpicks?” I queried
“The toothpicks?” she asked, incredulously.
“Yes, the toothpicks,” I returned with equal incredulity. “The round ones go in one dispenser, and the flat ones go in another dispenser. You make it sound like I’m the only one who cares about these things!”
My daughter skulked away, muttering something about the long-term effects of toothpick organizing on a young mind, leaving me to alphabetize the pantry in solitude. I had gotten as far as the tomato soup when the phone rang.
“Hello?” I answered impatiently.
“Hello dear,” my husband’s voice boomed jovially, “Good news! You’ve been so tense lately, I thought a night with friends might relax you, so I called Pastor and his wife and invited them to dinner tonight. ”
I blinked in disbelief, momentarily struck mute. When finally able to cough up a response, it came through clenched teeth. “Tonight? You’ve invited people to dinner tonight?”
“Yeah – hey, do you think you could put a couple of steaks on to marinade?” he asked.
“But, I … the house, it’s …” I stammered.
“Hey, honey, I’ve got to run. The boss just called a meeting. I’ll see you in a couple of hours, okay?”
“But, I … the house, it’s …” I stammered again, like a broken record.
“Love you too, bye!” He said, and the phone went dead.
Boxes of Christmas decorations were haphazardly piled upon the sofa and two chairs; red and green linens covered the laundry room floor. Every horizontal surface was piled with something in need of a good cleaning. By my best calculations, we were two water goblets shy of being declared a national disaster area.
The children were sent to their room to clean, steaks flew through the air and into the marinade, garland and twinkle lights were stuffed willy-nilly into boxes and lugged back into the attic. Broccoli was steamed, tables were dusted, and carpets were vacuumed. And hour and a half later, I stood panting and exhausted, but ready for the company to arrive.
Thirty minutes left and it was done. I smiled, pleased with the way everything looked. The girls, however, were nowhere to be found, and their room was actually messier than it had been to start with. I followed the scent of fresh nail polish to the closet, where they sat reading Nancy Drew books.
“Oh, hi Mom!” one said cheerfully. “Hey, why are you turning all purpley?”
“But I…the house … it’s …what are you doing?” I finally sputtered. “We are having unexpected company for dinner in half an hour! It’s going to take a miracle to get this room cleaned up anytime soon, like before Jesus returns! Please, ladies, hurry up. Our guests will be here shortly!”
My sarcasm was lost on them, of course, but they did jump up and begin scurrying about, cleaning up their mess. Before long, the Pastor and his wife arrived, everyone was seated, and dinner was served.
“Gracious,” the pastor’s wife commented, “I don’t know how you do it all. Just look at how lovely your house looks! Our house has Christmas boxes everywhere.”
I’ve long believed that God gives us children to keep us humble and grounded. Our youngest daughter took a big bite of mashed potatoes and said, “Well, Mom said we had to hurry before Jesus got here, but I’m starting to think he’s not really coming to dinner.”
When Pastor stopped laughing and composed himself, he tried to salvage the conversation. “Well, I like to think that Jesus comes with us everywhere we go. He’s with you too,” he said.
Victoria thought about that for a second and said, “Well, that’s good. I just hope he doesn’t look under the bed.”
I looked at the funny little freckle-faced kid across the table from me and smiled. She really thought Jesus was coming for dinner, and she had shoveled the rubble under the bed with hopes that her Lord and Savior wouldn’t peek under there.
Just over two thousand years ago, few were prepared for the miracle of Jesus. The stall had not been sanitized, the manger wasn’t polished, and there were no twinkle lights hanging from the eaves. The emphasis was on the baby, not the barn. Mary didn’t run around dusting before she gave birth, or demand that Joseph clean the floor. The barn was probably fairly dirty and smelly.
But that didn’t stop Jesus. He came anyway.
The realization humbled me and made me feel silly about all of my obsessive preparations. “So,” the pastor’s wife said, “are you going to do all that fabulous cooking for the open house again this year?”
My children sank lower in their seats, no doubt thinking of all the chopping and dicing in their immediate future. I smiled at them. “Actually no,” I answered, “We’re going to spend our energy focusing on more important things than cooking and cleaning. This year we’re having chips and dip, and a six-foot sub.”
The children sat up straight and my husband nearly choked on his steak. “Will we have paper plates, Mama?” my daughter asked, hopefully.
“Anything is possible.” I replied. “After all, this is a season of miracles.”