You’ve heard the story countless times. A simple carpenter and his young, pregnant wife travel some 90 miles to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. Every lodging place is full, so they’re given a stable for the night. And this is where our Savior was born. He didn’t enter the world inside a palace with a royal decree and esteemed guests. The King of Kings was born among animals, straw and stench. And the guests chosen to witness this miracle were lowly shepherds. Shepherds too dirty to enter the tabernacle on the Sabbath to worship had been invited to welcome the Lamb of God who would lay down His life for theirs.
Everything about it was messy. Swaddling clothes instead of royal robes. No crib. Just a manger, a feeding trough for animals. No time to rest. An angel warned the couple to escape from a bloodthirsty king intent on murdering their child.
The first Christmas was many things. It was holy and full of awe. It was pregnant with symbolism, since Bethlehem was the town that exported lambs to Jerusalem for sacrifices. It was humbling that God would leave His throne and come in the form of a child to rescue mankind. It was ordained, a plan so brilliantly devised that it’s continued to capture the attention of millions.
It was also messy.
When I think of Christmas, “messy” never comes to mind. Until today, perhaps because everything about my life right now is messy. As a caregiver for my Father for more than 9 years, life gets messier with each stage of Alzheimer’s. At mealtime there are overturned cups of coffee or lemonade, dripping through the seam in the table onto the floor that now needs to be mopped. There are morsels of food here and there, carpet stains to remove, bed linens to be laundered, hospice visits to arrange and full moons to prepare for. There are anger spells to manage and medicine cocktails to try. There are caregiver arrangements to be made and scholarship applications for respite care to finish.
Then there’s the emotional mess. There are the depressing thoughts I must vigorously take captive to make them obedient to Christ so that I can enjoy my day and not drown in it. There are my nerves that at times feel like a hundred rubber bands twisted and shaped into a wad the size of a softball. And there are the deep breaths I remind myself to take so the stress does not overwhelm me.
Caregivers aren’t alone. Life is messy for a lot of people right now. Jobs have been lost, vacation plans scrapped, budgets have shrunk, and visits with friends and family postponed. Our virtual world has heightened our need for authentic community and made us hunger for normal days. Coffee with a friend. Collaborating alongside coworkers. Friday night football games. Local carnivals and fairs where we rubbed elbows with strangers and basked in the hometown spirit. Catching dinner and a game with friends. And living our lives without a mask.
I admit it’s easy for me to narrowly focus on the mess. I’m holding two jigsaw pieces of a 1000-piece puzzle and I have no idea where the box lid is. I know there’s a big picture. I’m just not sure what it looks like or how much more puzzle needs to be put together. But even if I can’t see the big picture, I must trust that there is one and I don’t have to have everything figured out.
There was a much bigger picture over 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Many people missed it. They were too busy with their families, their work, their plans and their lives. But for those who didn’t miss this most holy of nights, there was a collective sigh of relief.
A weary world rejoices.
The Messiah had come. Man’s greatest need was being met in the form of a babe born in a manger. Born to die so we could live. That was the big picture. And it’s why we celebrate every year, whether it’s a year of plenty or a year of pandemic.
This has been a year of shaking. And I imagine many people want to rush right through this month so with fingers crossed they can eagerly welcome a new and hopefully better year ahead.
Don’t do it. Don’t rush through Christmas because you’re hoping a better day is right around the corner. Because in the grand scheme of things, Christmas is and always will be the better day. It’s the day God gave His greatest gift for mankind’s greatest need. And no matter how messy your life or my life is, that will always be worth celebrating.