Do you remember the sights and sounds that filled your childhood home at Christmastime? The feelings of anticipation that stirred in your little heart?
When I think about Christmases past, I remember the familiar decorations that my mother placed around the house, impatient curiosity about the packages tucked under our tree, and wide-eyed wonder at the multitude of holiday treats that appeared in our kitchen.
But not every memory has glitter around the edges.
I also recall Saturday morning Christmas program practices at church. All us Sunday school children sitting side-by-side in the front pews as our teachers attempted to corral our energy into another year’s telling of the Christmas story.
(I’m convinced God has prepared a special level of paradise for the brave people who’ve managed Sunday school Christmas programs through the centuries.)
And the culmination of all our efforts? In most every program I can recall, some little tyke would steal the show with a dress pulled up around her head, a humorously misspoken line, or a stumbling shepherd misstep that set the crowds to chuckling.
But I especially remember the year I became an angel.
I still remember the little-girl delight I felt while putting on that angel costume. All that shimmering white satin and sparkling gold trim–and glitter-doused wings to boot! I felt beautiful as they placed a ring of garland around my head. And even at a tender age, I felt a sense of responsibility: I wanted to bear the angelic costume with the perfection and grace it deserved.
Only I couldn’t pull it off.
As always, I had a short line to recite. Fortunately, God blessed me with a good memory, and I never inflicted the trauma of an ill-delivered line upon my parents. No, my trauma came in the form of a wardrobe malfunction.
Midway through our program—after I’d delivered my lines and filed off to the choir loft with the rest of the angelic host—I felt something give way. Lifting my fingers to the garland on my head, I discovered that my halo had broken. My ring of shining light now perched precariously on my brown curls, one end dangling off my left shoulder.
Looking back, I wonder how many people in the congregation even noticed the broken garland. Most were likely focused on their own children or the overall effect of the program. But I felt that broken halo like a needle piercing skin. The pain to my heart was instant and quick.
I was a no-good angel.
Mortified by my imperfection, I stood as still as possible, hoping my halo wouldn’t fall into a golden puddle at my feet. And the rest of the program passed by in a haze of fear and frozenness as I desperately hoped no one would notice my dilemma.
I’ve shared this memory with my own children in recent years as they prepared for appearances in our church Christmas programs. And I laugh at myself in the retelling.
That I could experience so much shame from a broken cord of garland is comical to my grown-up self. That garland had likely serviced a decade of angels before it made its way to my head. It was only a matter of time before it would firmly announce its retirement!
But even as I chuckle at the memory, it stirs up something in my heart. The feelings I experienced in that moment of broken angelhood—they still reverberate at times. In countless moments of weakness and fear, I’ve felt that chord of imperfection resounding in my heart.
You need to understand: I’ve been a church-going girl my entire life. I’ve served on the committees, and taught the youth group lessons, and cooked up the casseroles for those in need. I’ve paid my taxes, taught my kids to respect authority, and prayed before my meals.
But under that shiny exterior? I’ve always wrestled with the truth: I’m still a no-good angel.
I love Jesus with every fiber of my heart: But that heart beats with weakened muscle. There are times when fear holds me back. Days when disappointment or pain tips over into bitterness. When I settle for the atrophy of selfishness rather than the exertion of loving people well.
And that’s just the everyday stuff. Nevermind the life opportunities I’ve ignored because I wasn’t brave. Or the relationships I never pursued because I was too shy. The entire seasons of life when I harbored resentments or unhealthy habits, unable to surrender those strongholds before God. Anger toward my spouse. Yelling at my kids. Utter lack of self-confidence and purpose.
I’ve lived in every one of those messes, friends. Some angel, indeed.
I long to be a good Christian. But truthfully? There’s no glitter on these wings. I can’t ever remember feeling unbroken: My halo’s never quite made it to a shining whole.
As we prepare for another holiday season and we pull out our nativity scenes once again, I’m thinking about all those familiar pieces. Mary and Joseph searching for an inn. The simple shepherds, just going about their usual business of tending fussy sheep. The angelic hosts, bursting into the night with their song.
And what do those angels proclaim? A holy baby born amidst the filth and smell of the animals. A perfect God coming to live in a broken, messed-up world.
That is good news of great joy to a no-good angel like me.
In recent years, I’ve grown tired of trying to hide my broken halo. Yes, I still revert to hiding sometimes—I’m not quite ready to expose all my frayed edges to the watching world. But baby step by baby step, I’m learning to share my weakness instead of hiding it. I’m starting to ask more questions instead of pretending I know the answers.
I’m becoming more comfortable at letting people see the real, flesh-and-blood messiness of my life. Why?
Because at some point, the Christmas story finally penetrated my paralyzed heart. One day, I finally gave up the pride of thinking my work could earn God’s approval, or that my failings could foil his plans. One day, I finally understood that God’s love doesn’t require me to clean up before his arrival. That he’ll come with all his divine innocence and beauty, right into the dingy stable of my heart.
I finally believed the good news of great joy. And I stumbled, with broken halo and all, into the gentle, embrace of Jesus.
These days, I’m not quite so mortified by my broken halo, or my messy heart. I have a little more grace for my humanity–and for the mistakes of others. A little more humility about my weaknesses. And instead of looking around in fear that people might notice my struggles, I’m learning to share.
There’s no better feeling in the world than confessing to a struggle, and then seeing that spark of relief in someone else’s eyes. I know what they’re thinking as they smile into my eyes: So I’m not the only one who can’t keep it all together?
Turns out there’s good company to be found among the broken halo bunch.
And there’s hope here too. Because God still works in us, despite our glaring imperfections. He still gives us purpose and meaning, despite the dangling cords of doubt, or depression, or sin that feel heavy on our shoulders.
God wants to be with us, even in our messiness. He delights in our hearts, not our performances. And he can redeem every broken wing and every scar that mars us. That is good news of great joy. It is alive, and beautiful, and breathing life into my dingy soul.
As I listen to the angels singing at this year’s Christmas program, I’m joining in their chorus. And I’m proclaiming the good news that God shows up in dark places. The great joy that comes from surrendering to his quiet love.
I pray that it will make it’s way to every desperate heart that needs to hear it. To every broken angel who’s still looking for a reason to sing.