Have you received any Christmas letters this month that seem too good to be true? The photos show everyone cleaned up, dressed up, and smiling cheerfully, and the single-spaced review of the past year is jam-packed with humble brags. Johnny got straight A’s and batted clean-up for his Little League team. His sister Jenny won first place in her spelling bee and landed the lead role in the school musical. The parents remodeled their house, one of them got promoted at work, they vacationed in France, and their lawn was featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Or at least that’s how the letters portray things.
What these letters don’t say? Johnny’s teachers called in his parents to talk about his behavior problems at school. Jenny isolates herself in her room and struggles to make friends. The family’s expensive vacations and remodeling projects dug them deeper into debt. The pressure at work seems unbearable, and Mom and Dad are struggling to keep their marriage together.
Christmas letters aren’t the only place where image outpaces reality. The same thing happens on social media. Someone observed, “We compare our lackluster behind-the-scenes with others’ highlight reels.” Facebook photos show perfect dinnerplates, but seldom does anyone post a picture of the disastrous recipe that turned out wrong.
Most of the time, life isn’t a highlight reel. During the past year your experiences probably have been more normal than noteworthy—a mixture of ups and downs, messes to clean up and blessings to enjoy. We don’t need to put a fancy face on things. The Lord already knows every detail, and he makes himself at home in the midst of all the “everyday-ness.”
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Zacchaeus had a lot going for him. He lived in Jericho, the city of palms known for its rose gardens, honeycombs, and balsam groves. He was physically short but materially prosperous. His high-paying job allowed him to live in an upscale home, although his neighbors despised him for being a tax collector. Imagine the crowd’s surprise when Jesus noticed him perched on a tree limb and told him to come down, insisting, “I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). If there was a Mrs. Zacchaeus, I wonder what she thought about the unexpected dinner preparations. If they had children, were toys and clothes scattered around the house when Jesus showed up? If so, it didn’t matter. He wasn’t there to critique their homemaking skills.
“Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus said (v. 9). A few hours with Jesus transformed Zacchaeus’ life. The short tax collector decided to go long on generosity, giving half of his possessions to the poor and repaying anyone he had cheated four times the amount he had taken—double what the Law of Moses required of a thief (Exodus 22:7).
Would you and I have climbed the tree that day? Would we have been willing to swallow our pride and do whatever it took (even something awkward and childlike) to catch a glimpse of Jesus? Our walk with God won’t deepen if we care too much about impressing others and protecting our public image. Authentic faith isn’t about keeping up appearances. It’s about opening our hearts and homes to the Lord who came to seek and save the lost.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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