Our current economic recession is probably the best Christmas present Americans could have received this year. Since we are all cutting back on spending maybe, just maybe, we can divorce ourselves from the stress and frivolous spending associated with having the “perfect” Christmas.

Who knows what movie or fairy-tale inaugurated the idea that a perfect Christmas is one where the whole family sits around a table of food for an evening—hiding the reality that our family is extremely dysfunctional and has been affected by the Fall—and then passes out gifts we cannot afford to buy? Parents can intentionally create anxiety, especially many mothers, having bought into the idea that Christmas means that the entire family must return to the nest. It’s a great tradition and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but is it worth the strain of trying to turn the house into a movie set?

For many families, however, Christmas can be dreadfully stressful. Couples fight over which side of the family they are going to spend four hours with on Christmas Day because on Thanksgiving the husband’s parent’s saw the kids for five hours and now the maternal grandmother wants her equal time. And many of us will be guilt-manipulated with this theme: “You’re not going to be here for Christmas dinner? It’s just not Christmas if you’re not here.” Or you find yourself sitting around the dinner table and the same passive-aggressive comment your dad makes every year about you getting “a real job” helps you suddenly remember that it is your turn to give the kids a bath. By the way, your dad is so proud of your brother’s job. Have you seen his new house?

And, of course, there is the sister with the perfect husband and family. Your folks love them. While your kids are running around the house knocking things over, your sister’s kids are reciting Bible verses for the family. Later on, the perfect sister signals that she wants to talk you because your kids seem undisciplined.

The perfect Christmas is thankfully strained this year. Maybe you cannot afford to travel to the big perfect family dinner. Your kids are learning a valuable lesson about saving and spending because they are not receiving the mountain of new and soon to be discarded toys because “Mommy and Daddy just don’t have much money this year.” This is fantastic.

It seems like Christmas, the day set aside to remember the birth of Jesus Christ into a broken and fallen world, could also be a day where families get together to celebrate their need for a Savior, Christ the Lord, born into a dysfunctional family (Matthew 1:1-17) and to a mommy and daddy who did not have much to give other than love and affection (Luke 2:1-21).

Perhaps the perfect Christmas is one where family bonds are strengthened, not because we walk into a Norman Rockwell painting, but are deepened because our families have another opportunity for authenticity, repentance, and celebration. We celebrate the promised Savior’s birth because Christ alone came to give us hope about our sin, imperfect families, difficult finances, challenging marriages, pot-smoking kids, bad memories, health problems, passive-aggressive parents, loneliness, shame, and freedom from the power of the evil one (Luke 4:18-22; Galatians 5:1).

Joy to the world.