Getting sick at Christmas is the worst.
A week or so before Christmas in 1992 (my sophomore year), I felt a cold coming on. Sore throat, stuffy nose, sinus headache. Nothing to worry about - it felt like a normal cold that typically passes in a day or two. Around day 3, I started running a fever (ugh) and had to miss my mid-terms at school (cool!)...and then things got real.
By the time my parents took me to the doctor, I had developed a sinus infection, tonsilitis, and bronchitis. I was a little better by the time Christmas Eve rolled around and I was able to go with my family to my dad's parents' house for dinner and presents. The fever was gone but my throat still felt like I had gargled with broken glass and barb wire. Undeterred, I piled my plate high with my Maw-maw's best food. I grimaced through every delicious bite, but it was worth it.
Why do I tell you all of this?
Sometimes things at Christmas don't go the way we want them to go. We plan, we anticipate, we carefully choose gifts and wrap them beautifully (at least, some of us wrap beautifully). Even with all of that effort, somebody gets sick and somebody else is not happy with their present and something gets overcooked and another family member starts arguing over dinner about whatever and, well, you get the idea. Our expectations get thwarted and Christmas becomes a stressful ordeal, not at all like the Christmas scenes we get on the Hallmark Channel. And if we spend the season of Advent working and planning and preparing only to see those plans and preparations falter, even partially, it can leave us feeling drained, frustrated, even hurt.
It might be helpful for us to be reminded every year that Christmas is not about us. It's not about our plans or expectations. It's not about the perfect gift or the perfect meal or the perfect decorations. Those things can be fun and certainly time spent with family and friends is meaningful and important. But Christmas is about God's great love for us, made human and real for us in the birth of Jesus. Remembering that the truth behind all of our cultural Christmas 'stuff' is about God becoming like us in order to redeem us might help us better handle the stuff that doesn't go right - whether it's being sick, dealing with annoying family members, feeling stressed, or struggling with grief and sadness.
And like me on that Christmas Eve in '92 with my sore throat and my plate piled high with turkey, dressing, and giblet gravy, we can celebrate and give thanks anyway, even if it's not what we planned and it doesn't make the discomfort disappear completely.