I paused in fear when I heard the doorbell. I peeked out the window to see if it was a solicitor I could ignore. But to my dismay, it was a friend. I could not pretend I wasn’t home. I had to answer. Why was I so upset to have an unannounced visitor?
Because my house was a DISASTER. Dishes were piled at the sink. Laundry was scattered around my bedroom. Toys covered the living room floor. Clean up was in process, but at that stage when it looked worse before it looked better.
My guest was part of our church small group. A group for whom I usually prepared my house. I was faced with a choice: did I care about this person enough to invite her into my real life? Or only the cleaned up version of my real life that I presented on Thursday nights?
It seems to be human nature. We want to clean ourselves up for others. We are afraid that if they see our mess, they won’t accept us. We put it under the guise of wanting to be the best version of ourselves, which is probably true some of the time. But, other times, many other times, it is due to fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of judgment. Fear of abandonment.
And so we hide under a polished up version of reality.
I think in many ways, we have done this with the Christmas story. We find it comforting to look at a peaceful, smiling, and happy nativity scene. And though there was joy that night- beautiful, amazing, incomprehensible joy- there was also a mess. A mess we tend to gloss over.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. – Luke 2:1-7
The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is around 80 miles. This is not a short trip. Whether walking or riding a donkey, traveling and camping for a week would be difficult for a 9 month pregnant woman. Any way you look at it, this part of the story begins with the word “uncomfortable.”
I have had long days of travel. I know the relief at finally arriving at my destination. The excitement I have at finally having a bed to sleep on. Magnify that feeling 100 times for this pregnant woman and her husband. Yet door after door comes back with the same answer. No room. No space. No bed. The story moves from uncomfortable to frustrating.
Finally, someone offers space. But it is space they will have to share with animals. Not ideal, but at least it is something. It is shelter. But it is far from serene. Have you ever spent time in a barn? The story moves from frustrating to smelly and noisy.
And then, perhaps at the point when they lay down to sleep, ready to have a better day tomorrow, Mary goes into labor. There will not be rest tonight. There will be contractions. There will be moaning, crying, pushing, bleeding, and maybe even screaming. The story moves from smelly and noisy to painful.
This is when and how the Son of God, the Messiah, enters the world. He enters an uncomfortable, frustrating, smelly, noisy, and painful mess.
There are many of us who feel uncertain about going to church and looking for God. We think that before God would talk to us, we would have to get things cleaned up. Others may think we look put together, but that is just the sparkled up version of reality. We know that the inside is a mess.
Inside there are regrets, shame, and guilt. Inside there are wounds and lost hope. Inside there is anger and depression. Inside is uncomfortable and frustrating. Inside is smelly and painful.
We forget that mess may make us uncomfortable, but does not make God uncomfortable. It is in the mess that redemption finds us. Jesus entered the mess. We do not need to hide it from Him. In fact, we need to expose it to Him.
He is our Redeemer. He came to forgive us of sin, free us from shame, and give us new hope. He does not care about appearances. He cares about relationship. His grace is greater than our mess.
And that, I think, is the most beautiful part of the story.