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Church•Healing • 5 minutes to read
Have you ever considered that the Nativity Story is a very messy scene?
Think about a few of the elements of the story we know so well and have perhaps sanitized in our modern retelling of them. At the birth of Christ, we find shepherds running through the small town of Bethlehem at dark—a town without street lights or paved roads—yelling some kind of nonsense and “disturbing the peace.” Villagers who had been asleep behind simple structures of wood and stone are easily awakened as these shouts pierce the night through their crude windows and door frames.
These shepherds have apparently just been in the birthing room of a young couple—unmarried, alone, and exhausted from the delivery of a baby boy. Shepherds, by the way, who didn’t have access to a shower or bathroom nearby. They smelled like sheep and had likely shown up with their herd in tow. These animals wander around outside bleating and waiting for their masters to take them back to pasture. We sing Silent Night now, but in reality, that night was likely anything but silent!
The shepherds had arrived at a stable (a barn) meant for animals. Whether it was a sort of cave, a lean-to shelter, or some kind of attachment to the main dwelling, we do not know for sure. What we do know is that this structure had no electricity, no running water, and no baby heart rate monitor. It probably had plenty of straw, cold water drawn from a well, and firelight (not a great combination with straw, by the way). This is the birthplace of the Savior.
Have you ever been in a birthing room? I have: four times for the birth of my children. It is not silent—the birth of a child is busy, loud, and at times, chaotic. And even with all the modern wonders of science keeping the scene as sanitary as possible, it is still a very messy event. There are no two ways about it! How much more would this have been true 2,000 years ago! So we have smelly animals, noisy shepherds, blood, a baby crying, and disturbed villagers. Oh, and did I mention the soldiers who had begun searching the entire community to kill every baby boy born in a two-year span? What a mess.
Even still, into this mess, the Prince of Peace and King of Kings was born. God chose to enter the mess of this world as one of us, rather than choosing a more safe or sanitary path. Our God did have other options, you know? Throughout history, God has used numerous unique ways to impart wisdom and declare truth to our world. He has spoken through angels, burning bushes, and donkeys. Old Testament prophets and heroes often seemed to simply appear in their story, with little reference or acknowledgment to their past. The Spirit of God came on people at specific times for certain tasks. Our God could have chosen any one of these methods, and one million more, to proclaim His love for us and lead us back to Himself.
But He did not choose any of these methods. Our God chose to enter our world in a very messy way. A very human way.
Have you ever considered that our journey of recovery and freedom is, quite often, a very messy scene?
We have made choices in our past we are not proud of—things we have seen, behaviors we have engaged in, places we have been, people we have hurt. This list could go on. At times, our thoughts are dark, depraved, and anything but God-honoring. We do the very thing we promised others we would never do again. We have missteps, relapses, or setbacks. We take two steps forward only to feel like we can take three steps back on a bad day. The relationship problems we have created can lead to loud arguments, tearful exchanges, and sleepless nights. The pain can feel deep, the isolation oppressive, and the path ahead vague and uncertain.
We are a mess, at times, and our story can feel very messy in places. And all of this messiness can make us feel fearful of being seen and known by the Prince of Peace. In our theology, we have made Him very clean. Very holy. Very unlike us. We do not like what we see in our own lives, and so how could anyone else, especially a God who knows every word, every thought, and every deed?
Even if we have come to Christ and can easily see ways that our life is less messy overall—we feel we have made good progress in many areas—we can still fall prey to this idea that a life of following Christ should appear very cleaned up and neat. This can lead us to hide, minimize, or even ignore the “still in process” parts of us that do not yet match up with God’s plan.
However, the Christmas Story reminds us, in all its truth, that we have a God who is not afraid of the messiness of our world. He chose it. He entered it willingly. And His birth—in all of its beautiful mess—is actually just a small foretaste of His death, which will be messier by far! Dusty streets in Jerusalem, sweaty, angry guards, blood, crying people, and a naked body nailed to a cross. What a mess!
- The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light! (Isaiah 9:2)
- Those who were not a people have now become the people of God! (I Peter 2:10)
- The stone that makes some stumble; a rock that makes them fall has become the cornerstone! (Isaiah 8:14, Psalm 118:22)
- The Lamb was slain and redemption’s price paid in full! (I Peter 2:24)
A mess to some, but a glorious message of hope and redemption to all who believe. Our God, Jesus Christ, has entered our mess in order to declare to us that no mess is big enough to keep Him away.
So does your story—your particular brand of messiness—keep you at arm’s length from God at times? Do you feel you must clean up and get your act together in order to be in His presence? Do you believe that a sanitized Jesus wants only the perfected, plasticized version of you? If so, I urge you—look to His birth. Look to His death. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, does not fear your mess. He embraces it. And in this, we can find certainty that He embraces us—mess and all. When Jesus can meet us in our mess, and we find no fear of this meeting, we can begin co-laboring with Him on the good work He longs to do in our lives.
This Christmas, may you find peace, comfort, and joy from being with Christ in the midst of your beautiful mess. He is with us. Emmanuel.