In the Christmas edition of my In Good Faith column, I write about the messiness of that first Christmas and how it keeps the messes in our own lives - and the world - in perspective.
The Mess of Christmas
I have nothing against dainty, hand-painted porcelain nativity sets that sit atop mantlepieces in well-appointed homes. Many of them are quite beautiful, especially when accompanied by stockings hung by the chimney with care. And if they draw us into contemplation of the story of Jesus’ birth, I’m definitely on Team Porcelain Nativity Set.
The only problem with them is when they lead us into the temptation of sentimentalizing Christmas. In other words, this time of year should be full of precious moments, but it shouldn’t be all about Precious Moments.
This year, in particular, feels less than precious. Covid is again running rampant, there’s great uncertainty as to how to safely gather at home and in churches, supply chain issues are disrupting our best-laid plans, and everyone is exhausted by the prospect of a third straight year of pandemic living.
The good news is that our current state of chaos has a lot more in common with the first Christmas than any hand-crafted nativity set. After all, giving birth is messy business! And it must have been particularly stressful to go into labor in a place so far away from family and friends. Not to mention the conditions: cows and sheep are dirty and wander all over the place; shepherds generally need a shower; and angels are terrifying.
And yet, despite all the messiness, despite everything not going according to plan, despite all the expectations not met, Christ our Savior was born. God entered the world in human form not into a state of perfection, but in the midst of a mess. I actually take great comfort in this. Because if Jesus himself arrived into a state of disarray, there’s hope for his entrance into our own often disordered lives.
Of course, much of the messiness into which Jesus was born had more to do with the human condition than with the maelstrom around the manger. Because unlike that porcelain nativity set, we’re not shiny and perfect and set apart. Rather, we’re flawed and dented and set within the context of our broken humanity. The miracle of Christmas is that, despite our imperfections and the mess we make of things, Jesus still shows up to walk with us, to live with us, to love us.
Which means a more accurate nativity scene might be the PlayMobil version my kids had when they were young. The sheep were strewn all over the place, the Magi were replaced with Power Rangers, dinosaurs were involved, and this all took place not on a distant mantlepiece, but on the family room floor. Which feels like a more authentic version of how things unfolded on that long-ago night in Bethlehem — accessible, authentic, and messy.
Whatever we do or fail to get done this Christmas, remember that God will love us anyway. Whatever mess Jesus encounters when he arrives or whatever state of chaos we find ourselves in on December 25, he will love us anyway.
Hold on to that love, friends. And know that whatever mess we’ve made of things, and no matter how messy our world feels right now, God is right in the midst of it all.