Christmas is messy. I don’t mean the wrapping paper littering the floor around the room or the Christmas dinner scraps lying under the table. Those are definitely messy, but Christmas is messy on a much deeper level also. It’s messy on a relational and emotional level. It’s not really surprising that Christmas is messy because families celebrate Christmas and families are messy. I’ve met all kinds of wonderful people who live in very messy families. I’m sure you have too. The fact of the matter is, we all live in messy families of some sort. As a result, Christmas can be very messy.
The first Christmas was messy too. Think about it. A young girl claims to be a virgin while clearly pregnant. Her betrothed, who had the legal right to divorce her, accepts her and her pregnancy while claiming the child is not his. The family of both probably struggled to understand. A government demands that each family of a conquered nation return to the place of their family of origin for a census. A city so crowded and inhospitable that no spare room could be found for a woman on the verge of giving birth to a child. A pregnant woman giving birth to her firstborn Son in a place set aside for the sheltering of animals…and then swaddling the newborn Child before laying Him in a feeding trough. There they rested, a Child and his parents, in the midst of the smell and chatter of animals, the constant hum of an overcrowded city just outside the door, and the heavy hearts of being misunderstood and cast out. It was a messy time.
And yet, out of this first messy Christmas came celebration. An angel choir sang an anthem of “peace on earth good will to men” to an audience of shepherds. After hearing the message of the angelic choir, the shepherds came to worship and adore the newborn Child. When they left the Child, they made proclamations of excitement and hope to all they met.
This first messy Christmas also left obedient people misunderstood and alienated by the assumptions of those around them. But it also opened the door for those who had eyes to see to catch a glimpse of the Truth. An old man and an old woman in the temple saw the greeted the Child 8 days after His birth and saw the truth of hope, redemption, and salvation. They joyfully announced the truth they saw in the Child, the heavenly purpose of His life.
We know today that this first messy Christmas was only the beginning of a new life for you and me, a new life in an eternal family in which all the messiness will be done away and we will experience only love and trust and peace.
Sometimes I mourn as I reflect on the messiness of family life. I lament over the pain we experience amidst the messiness of families battered by misunderstandings, suffering the consequences of poor choices, and living in the pain of lost love. But, on Christmas day, as I look at the mess left around the Christmas tree and reflect on the fallout of the broken relationships I see in many families, I see a spark of Hope rise up. As I contemplate the messy vision of a newborn Child lying in a manger between two poor, exhausted parents in the midst of noisy animals permeated by the aroma of a barnyard, I trust in the birth of Hope. I smile, knowing that the birth of Jesus is just the beginning of a Life that will lead to the end of all the messiness of sin. The birth we celebrate on Christmas Day is the start of a beautiful, eternal family of intimate celebration with the Father of All. Merry Christmas.