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Every December, against my better judgment and any wisdom learned from past experience, I attempt to create precious Christmas traditions with my children.

Sometime after Thanksgiving dinner, I get starry-eyed imagining my family gathered together in our living room, maybe wearing matching red sweaters. We’ll sing some songs while I strum a guitar, eat something wholesome and homemade and then the children will sit quietly while listening to me read reverent Christmas stories. It looks so good in my mind that I am convinced it can be real. I feel genuinely inspired to make it happen.

But here’s the thing: we don’t have matching sweaters, I neither own nor play the guitar, I don’t bake much and my children have never sat quietly, ever.

Invariably, every December I re-enact some version of this misguided foolishness. Every year my kids nearly riot and I end up feeling like I’ve been punked by the Holy Ghost. My family’s actual Christmas tradition has become “Mom attempting to create a tender moment until the family makes her surrender.”

This year is no different. As I prepped for Thanksgiving, I reflected on the many Christmas programs I participated in while in elementary school. I attended an Episcopalian school, and discussing Advent in our Bible study and Christmas program preparation was a highlight. I still have sections of the Book of Luke memorized because of how much I read it every December as a child, and I love it.

When I picked up my Bible to look through Luke again, I realized it has exactly 24 chapters. If we started reading a chapter a day on the first day of December, we’d finish it on Christmas Eve.

We’ll do it, I thought naively. The chapters aren’t too long, and there are dozens of little stories and vignettes about the Savior’s life that would be ideal to read as we prepare for Christmas.

Well. Once again, I am reminded that I ought to write the script for the cast I have. I should not imagine my boisterous kids will turn into prop children from a Hallmark movie just because I have an idea about how they are supposed to feel the Spirit.

It’s the middle of the December, and we are not even close to being on schedule to finish the book of Luke by Christmas. It took us three days to get through the second chapter because we kept getting derailed with talk of circumcision.

“They did WHAT??” my four sons asked, wide-eyed and appalled. “He’s a perfectly perfect little baby, and as soon as he shows up, they start trimming his parts off?”

I hope they remember a little bit about Simeon, who was overjoyed to meet the Messiah he’d been waiting for, and Anna, the prophetess.

But every chapter is a vocabulary lesson, and requires a conversation about cultural differences. We made it to the fifth chapter of Luke before our next major derailment.

“So people were criticizing Jesus because he was hanging out with folks nobody liked,” I explained.

“Like who?” the kids wanted to know.

“Well, he had dinner with Levi, who was a publican,” I said.

“A Republican? They were around even back then?” I spent the rest of the evening clarifying the difference between modern American political parties and ancient Jewish tax collectors, trying desperately to emphasize the real point of the story: Jesus loves everyone, and we should, too.

None of this is how I imagined my family’s Christmas scripture reading. It is miles and miles away from perfect. But isn’t that the point? Our best efforts can’t measure up to perfection, and we need a Savior. In our messiness of attempted reverence, and feeling like I am failing at Christmas—yet again—I’m extra humble and grateful for a Savior.

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