A White Chrismas With Grey Jell-O – Colossians 3:12-17
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
My parents picked the four of us up from the Tampa airport last Monday. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny Florida day. We drove south on the highway, surrounded by green-ness that the Indiana Fall had stolen from us weeks ago. Palm trees on the right; citrus trees on the left. The music was turned on in the car and Christmas music was playing. Christmas music on the Monday before Thanksgiving in Florida. It was an odd feeling.
I have a rule about Christmas music. I don’t turn it on until the day after Thanksgiving. I did not approve of Christmas music playing loudly in the car so as to be heard over the roar of the air conditioner. But it wasn’t my car. It was not my place to say anything. So I sat quietly, refusing to sing along to the catchy songs either aloud or in the quiet space in my mind.
But now my self-imposed deadline has passed and I can’t get enough Christmas music. Hundreds of holiday songs are loaded on my phone. I stream Christmas radio stations nearly every minute I’m at work. I’ve listened to the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack a dozen times already.
There’s one song in particular that many people agree is the perfect Christmas song – a song that is, according to Guinness World Records, the best-selling single of all time. Not the best-selling Christmas song, but the best-selling song, ever, regardless of genre. To many people, this song is simply perfect:
You may be familiar with the great irony of “White Christmas” – the song was written by Irving Berlin, a devout Jew. So what is it about this sixty-five year-old song that still resonates today? Lyrically-speaking, it’s a masterful juxtaposition of nostalgia and hope, melancholy and comfort. It’s a poetic plea for the gifts of precious memories to positively-impact our lives today.
The song wishes us a White Christmas – an image that goes beyond the tree-tops glistened with snow and pulls in imagery of childhood innocence and hand-written Christmas cards.
You hear this song and walk away wishing for a White Christmas, for yourself and for others.
So why, then, does our quest for a White Christmas today seem so often to be filled with stress and over-spending? Is it possible for us to seek a perfect Christmas and still save our souls?
Is the answer to aim lower? Should we attempt to pull off an adequate Christmas as opposed to the perfect Christmas? Instead of a perfect White Christmas, should we anticipate an imperfect Grey Christmas?
I know something about Grey Christmases, and like any good Lutheran story, it involves Jell-O.
Every year for Christmas, my Aunt Lucene would make Jell-O salads for our family get-togethers. Typically it would be green Jell-O with shredded carrots, canned diced pears, and marshmallows – the kind of textures that just feel like they don’t belong in your mouth at the same time.
Aunt Lucene’s Jell-O salads were an inside joke in our family, but we never let her know that no one particularly enjoyed them. It helped that she could hardly hear anything we said. In the words of the classic line from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, she “couldn’t hear a dump truck drive through a nitroglycerin plant!”
As Aunt Lucene got older her Jell-O salads became more and more...adventurous. One of the last ones I remember her bringing looked like she had used dark grey Jell-O – the color of snow that has sat on the side of a busy road for a week or two. This particular year in addition to the coconut, canned fruit, and peanuts and raisins (yes, peanuts and raisins…like I said, adventurous), she had added M&Ms. The color of each M&M had bled into whatever color Jell-O she started with, resulting in the disgusting grey-ness.
It was only edible so long as we you picked out the raisins and peanuts and ate with our eyes closed. She had no idea what we thought of it. I have vivid memories of her putting spoonful after spoonful of that grey gelatinous matter in her mouth and smiling.
These memories surfaced every year at our family gatherings. These memories also surfaced at Aunt Lucene’s funeral a few years ago. These memories made us smile. Telling this story makes me smile still today.
All that to say, the love we share exists in an imperfect space. Our lives simply cannot be centered on a quest for perfection because the love of God in Christ is the only perfect thing would could ever hope to experience. And yet, it is love that makes the imperfect perfect.
The imperfection of the grey Jell-O salad inspired loving memories in my family last will last for years to come.
The imperfection of our daily life in Christ – our constant faults and failures – are no obstacle for God’s love. Some days it feels like no matter how much time, energy, and focus we pour into our faith, it still looks as appealing and nourishing as grey Jell-O salad.
Our task, as I’m still learning day by day, is to see our imperfection as an opportunity to praise God’s perfection. In our inability to adequately love and care for others, God works through us to accomplish more than we could on our own.
Each of us are certainly headed for an imperfect Christmas in a few weeks; but I know love can and will be experienced in the midst of the imperfection.
So, in this season of Advent, prepare for a Grey Christmas. Don’t bother searching for the perfect gift, making the perfect dinner, or hosting the perfect party. Instead, be bold and adventurous. Take risks, not just with the ingredients in your Jell-O salad, but with your actions and attitudes towards others. Free yourself to share extravagant love withe the world that is looking for love in all the wrong places. And trust that God will take your imperfect Grey Christmas and turn it into something beautiful and life-giving.