18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.
When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,
for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25, NRSV
It had to be at least ten years ago now. That Christmas, my nephew (all of three years old at the time) was helping me set up one of my nativity scenes. After we unwrapped all of the shepherds and wise men and angels and the holy family, I left Eric alone with the nativity scene for a few minutes. When I returned, I didn’t find the traditional nativity scene I was expecting.
The nativity scene was all over the place. Literally. I found a sheep under a couch cushion two months later. You see, for my nephew, the nativity scene was less a sacred Christmas decoration and more a super-hero action set. When I found him, he was holding a shepherd and the Virgin Mary, engaged in a rousing game of space invaders. Joseph was off in a corner with the three wise men (who, according to my nephew, were all superheroes battling in outer space). The baby Jesus was in another corner with the cow. (Jesus, my nephew reasoned, was enjoying a trip to the zoo while his parents were fighting monsters in another galaxy). It seems we had a bit of work to do regarding the salient details of the Christmas story.
As I surveyed the scene, I remember thinking: “This nativity scene is a mess!”
Of course, the truth is that the real nativity scene — the very story of the first Christmas — is a total, absolute, unbelievable, glorious mess. We’ve forgotten that, I think. We’ve tamed the birth of Christ. Yet in reality, the first Christmas was a bit of a mess.
There’s Mary, the mother of Jesus… a pregnant teenager in way over her head. There’s Joseph, her husband-to-be, wondering if his bride had betrayed him in the most crushing way. Jesus’ parents are trying to hold together a marriage that is falling apart before it even begins. And that’s just Jesus’ immediate family. Imagine the rest of the scene: Mary gives birth in a messy, crowded stable, surrounded by animals. After the birth, the family is inundated with a revolving door of strangers, including some local shepherds and a few so-called “wise men” from who knows where. And then… then the family finds out that danger is coming. King Herod is in no mood for a competitor-king. All of Bethlehem’s children are in danger, and Mary and Joseph flee the city, spending the first few years of Jesus’ life as refugees in a foreign land.
This story is a messy story. The story of Christmas is a total, absolute, unbelievable, glorious mess.
And I think that should be a comfort to us all. This time of year, we often lose sight of the messiness of Christmas, and we convince ourselves that we need to be picture perfect, to have it all together for Christmas. But the reality is that Christmas is not a holiday for perfect people who already have it all together. Christmas is a holiday for messy, broken people.
People whose lives are already perfect have no need of that baby in Bethlehem’s manger, no need for a comforting, redeeming, life-preserving Savior. People who already have it all together have no need for God to come near. People who have no pain or brokenness in their lives do not rejoice in the Christmas promise: Emmanuel, God is with us! Christmas is a holiday for people whose lives include messiness and brokenness. Christmas is a holiday for people like you and me.
So God bless us messes, every one.
And in the midst of the messiness, may you remember:
Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
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