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Disheveled Theologian: Theological Stocking Stuffers, Week 6: Imperfections are welcome

Mary had to have been exhausted. Sure, she was young and resilient, but she was nine months pregnant! She’d been riding on a donkey, been rejected at the inn, had nothing but hay plumped up to be her pillow. And now she was in labor and had to shove over the animals so that she could give her newborn a bed.

Imperfect conditions, to be sure. Yet welcoming the most perfect baby to ever be born.

I guess it’s true that perfection isn’t necessary when it comes to Christmas.

I am a perfectionist in some things. Or at least I used to be. The older I get, the more I realize that perfection is impossible. Or maybe it’s just that the older I get the less I care about being perfect.

When I was a kid, I loved making cut-out cookies for Christmas. By the time I was 12, I was fairly competent in the kitchen. Mom was usually nearby if I needed any help and occasionally there were Q-and-A sessions hollered from the kitchen to the loft overhead where Mom sewed.

Me (standing at the bottom of the stairs): “Mom! How many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?”

Mom (her voice floating down through the Christmas music in the background and the chug, chug, chug of her sewing machine): “Three. Why do you ask?”

Me (feeling quite clever): “I thought I’d triple the recipe.”

Mom (suddenly nervous): “That is not a good idea.”

Me (disappointed): “Why not?”

Mom (explaining): “Because you don’t have enough softened butter and that many cookies will get stale before we can eat them all.”

Me (justifying): “There’s more butter in the icebox.” (We always called it an icebox, relic of Mom’s parents’ Scottish upbringing.)

Mom (possibly a little cross by now): “That’s for something else.”

Me (curious and seeking clarification): “What else?”

Mom (in her teacher voice): “That’s enough. Make a single batch.”

When the baking was done and the dining room table was covered with racks full of cooling cookies, I would begin decorating. Jars of sprinkles, bowls of frostings, and tiny squeeze bottles of food coloring littered the table, all waiting for me, the artist, to begin. I loved decorating. Loved making perfect angels, perfect trees, perfect Santas … for about 20 minutes … and then I’d look at the mounds of cookies that were still left, and I’d begin to rush. (It was a good thing Mom hadn’t allowed me to triple the recipe!)

My sisters could always tell the cookies I decorated in the first twenty minutes of inspiration and the ones done after. Mom and Dad could tell too, but they kept quiet about it. If we were giving cookies away — to neighbors, teachers, elderly friends — the First Twenty Minute Cookies were the ones to give. They were the perfect ones.

The rest were left for the family. The imperfect ones. The broken ones. The exhausted, riding-on-a-donkey-from-Nazareth-and-no-room-at-the-inn ones.

Shepherds and animals greeted baby Jesus. Imperfect guests, in the eyes of the world, in an imperfect setting for the birth of a king. How good it is to know that God loves us in the midst of our imperfections.

“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:4-7 NKJV