I wonder where you will be on Christmas morning when you open your presents? Lazing in bed? In the lounge by the Christmas tree? Perhaps all huddled around a log fire? With friends? With family? With a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate?
For many of us Christmas is a cosy time of the year. And the nativity scene tops it off! A cute and cuddly baby Jesus all snugly wrapped in a cloth and in a manger. Surrounded by house-trained animals who all help to make the stable a cozy environment for the holy family. Shepherds join in with their little lambs and not one, not two, but three Kings bring a bit of gravitas to the whole scene! What a beautiful Christmas picture postcard.
It’s a wonderful hopeful scene for this time of the year. But, if we’re honest, the rest of the time it can feel a little detached from reality. Some of us don’t even make it to Christmas lunch before an argument breaks out, certainly in the days that follow the Christmas magic disappears and the ‘real world’ begins again. No more decorations, no more nativity scene, no more Jesus. Put him in the box for next year when we have that Christmas cheer once again!
But to do this would be to miss the story of the first Christmas completely! The story where the God who created the universe came in the most unlikely and messy circumstances, steeped in messy reality. So incredibly human. So incredibly ‘God with us’.
So let me tell you a story…
A teenage girl, living in a small town (a few hundred people), has an encounter with an angel who tells her she is pregnant with God’s son and He will be the saviour of the world.
Her husband struggles to believe her.
His family probably didn’t believe her.
Her friends spoke about her behind her back.
Her family may have disowned her.
God’s son was born into SCANDAL
Soon after becoming pregnant, Mary and her husband, Joseph, were ordered to move back to Joseph’s home town to be counted in the national census.
So they set out on a long journey. A huge trek for a pregnant woman and one with little hope of a bed and a meal once they arrived.
God’s son was born into DISORDER
In Bethlehem, sure enough, there was not a single room available for them due to the sudden rush for the census. So, soon-to-be mum and dad now find themselves homeless and exhausted.
God’s son was born into REJECTION
The only space to stop them sleeping on the streets, was with the animals behind the house. A roof over their heads and little else.
No help, no bed, sore feet, and fleas in every corner of the barn.
What a place to give birth.
God’s son was born into OBSCURITY
And there, in the grubby backyard animal shelter, a baby was born. Mum and dad exhausted, baby crying due to the smells and noises coming from their animal room-mates.
The only place they could find for this newborn to sleep was the animals feeding trough. Probably still full of some of the week’s leftovers.
God’s son was born into MESSY CIRCUMSTANCES
Following his birth, the child found himself on the radar of the local King. He targeted the child and sought to kill every firstborn boy his age just to make sure the job was done. The family found themselves as refugees, fleeing to Egypt to save their son.
God’s son was born into TRAGEDY
So you might think the story of Jesus’ birth isn’t for you. Or if it is, it’s only for Christmas and then he can go back into the box when ‘real life’ begins.
But in reality, Jesus coming into the world truly is God with us.
God with us in the joys and festivities, and God with us in times of scandal, disorder, rejection, loneliness, messiness and even times of tragedy.
God is not distant in those times.
He stepped into the messiness of our lives to bring comfort, hope and salvation, for a day when all things will be made beautiful once again. Even as we wait for that day, we can know that He is with us every step of the way in the messiness of life, all year long.