I've been doing all I'm supposed to do to get ready for the holiday season this year. I've been buying gifts, cleaning house, stringing lights, listening to Christmas music.
But somehow I've felt disconnected, removed from the glimmer and cheer of the season. Maybe it's because I see so many people struggling just to put a simple meal on the table. Or because I know friends that are dealing with deep wounds and losses this holiday season. Or because I know 26 families in Newtown, Connecticut are facing the holiday season without someone they love. Something about all this hype, all this consumption, all this pressure to find the perfect gift and the grandest tree and the cleanest house just didn't seem quite right.
So I went back to the story. I went back to the story looking for hope, looking for a reason to celebrate, looking for something to restore my joy in this season.
Friends, this story isn't quaint or pretty or extravagant or glamorous.
Think about it. Can you imagine a setting messier than Jesus' birth?
A young, very pregnant woman is traveling a dusty road to an unfamiliar city. Somewhere in the swell of the crowd she goes into labor. There are no hospitals. No doctors. No birthing class. In fact, there is not even a room, not even a small space of floor with four walls and a bed for this woman to give birth.
Instead, there is a wooden manger. There are bleating cattle. There is the smell of dung and feed, the scratch of fresh hay. There is chaos. Pain. Noise. Mess. Birth.
And then there is a baby. The cry of new life. A single star shedding light into a dim animal stall. There is joy. There is hope. There is Jesus.
Doesn't our version seem a bit sanitized? We've managed to clean it up, make it shine. Our nativity scenes depict a clean, glowing baby Jesus with tiny arms stretched wide and fluffy lambs who most definitely do not stink or make inappropriate noises. Mary and Joseph look calm and serene, not like they just gave birth in a barn to a baby that is both God and man.
Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful story.
But there's nothing pretty about this story. There were no twinkling lights or shiny floors. There weren't cinnamon scented candles or perfectly groomed Christmas trees.
The story is beautiful because Jesus came.
He came in the midst of chaos. He came in moments of anguish. He came in frailty and weakness. He came into dirt and filth and stench.
The Creator of the universe, the God of sun and moon and stars, chose not to stay in Heaven, chose not even to be born a King in a royal palace, but instead chose to enter into the muck of humanity in the poorest, messiest, dirtiest way possible.
This story...the stripped down, unsanitized story...the real story, gives me reason to hope, and to celebrate, this season.
Because you see, if God can make His home in a loud, smelly barn, he can make His home in my messy heart. He can handle my brokenness. He can calm the noise of my soul. He can enter into the chaos of my life.
Christmas tells the story of a God who wasn't afraid of our pain. A God big enough to handle our hurts...broken relationships, debilitating sickness, dreams deferred, lives lost too soon. He saw our suffering and He came.
God came close.
Sure, this Christmas I want decked halls and sparkling lights. I want clean floors and warm beds and the smell of fresh baked cookies in the air.
But if the dust bunnies don't get picked up, it's okay. If I'm mourning losses, it's okay. If my heart is hurting, it's okay. If the tree is crooked, the cookies are burnt, and the dog throws up all over the kitchen floor, it's okay.
Jesus doesn't ask for clean. He doesn't expect our lives to be like covers of the JC Penney Catalog. He doesn't ask for us to smell good or look good or be adequate.
We aren't fooling him with our well-decorated homes and guarded hearts anyway.
He knows we're all a hot mess.
All He asks is that we allow Him to come. He asks us to open our hearts and our homes, as unkempt as they may be, to let the Child in. He asks us to receive hope, to receive healing, to receive new life right now.
Not once we've tidied things up. Not once we've cleaned the house. Not once we've read the Bible. Not once we've prayed the prayer.
Right now. Right in the moments we're most stressed. Right in the moments our hearts are breaking. Right in the moments we've said the wrong thing, set the wrong priorities, and made royal fools of ourselves.
I pray this season Jesus would come again. I pray He'd enter into my heart, into my mess, into my scattered thoughts and disorganized home. I pray Christmas would dawn in our homes anew this season. That just as it did so many years ago in a crowded, smelly stable in Bethlehem, we would hear the cry of new life, see the star lighting our way, and receive hope, our Savior, once again.