As enchanting as this fable is, I’ve never experienced a Christmas like that. My Christmases always seem to involve way to many last minute shopping runs or minor (and major!) kitchen disasters. My tree is lovingly but eclectically decorated, and I’m not sure but that the cat plays with the ornaments when I’m not looking. My presents are wrapped, but you can totally see that place where I miscalculated how big a piece of paper to cut, so there is a patch under the back seam. My food usually tastes the way it’s supposed to, but usually there are some ‘wugglies’ that I have no choice but to serve. I have been fortunate enough to spend the majority of my Christmases with my family, but this year I’m very much apart from the people I love.
That first Christmas was not the clean, neat, glowing picture we like to print on Christmas cards either. It was pretty messy in every possible way. Mary was far from home when her time came to deliver the baby that had ruined her reputation. Despite all the pictures, stables are not generally well lit or automatically full of clean hay in comfortable piles. Tax day is usually one of the worst days of the year, and to complicate matters further, Joseph had to take a road trip for the privilege of paying for the luxuries and excesses of the cruel invaders of his country. I wonder if when Mary later told Jesus the story of his birthday, she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry first. Laughter because seriously, you can’t make this stuff up (a stable?), and tears because it truly was all so hard.
Yet in the midst of the very human mess, there was beauty. The baby was born safely, and we can assume that there was enough money to pay the taxes. Stinky shepherd showed up with a story of angelic majesty spread across the skies, and Mary and Joseph received confirmation that no, they weren’t crazy, but this really was Emmanuel in their arms. After hundreds of years of silence, the presence of the Lord was back with His people.
Only this time, it wasn’t hidden behind a thick curtain in the temple that only one man once a year could pass. It wasn’t a pillar of fire or smoke, and it wasn’t an angel. It was God, Himself, in the form of His creation. Jesus, very God, experiencing air on His skin, hiccups, pain, and laughter. God with us—Emmanuel. Jesus living the human experience so He could provide perfect comfort for us as we sorrow, hurt, and heal. Jesus showing us the way God intended us to live so that we could know His joy despite the brokenness of our world.
Christmas is about presence in the mess, rescue from the bondage, and love for the broken. Christmas is about a sinful world that deserved nothing better than abandonment or destruction being given a chance for healing and being cherished. Christmas is about the mess that is all of our lives, and what the Lord does when we allow Him to be here with us in our broken nows. Christmas is the glory of the Lord coming to where we are today, and changing our lives—if we’ll let Him.
So, Merry Christmas in the mess. Because God is in the business of taking the humble, the lowly, and the broken, and making something beautiful. Whatever your mess is this year, may God grant you peace and grace as you wait to see what He’s doing with it. Here’s to messy Christmases, and a God who came willingly to save His broken world.