As we enter into the Christmas season I am struck, once again, at how messy life, family celebrations, and gift giving can be. This year our our family celebrated Christmas with my Papa on December 13th, missed celebrating with my middle sister that same weekend, journeyed north to my other sister’s to celebrate with her family and my mother on Christmas Adam (that’s Christmas Eve, Eve – thanks Lawson family!), and will board a plane today to fly to see more family out of state. Our kids are great with the multiple celebrations, mostly because each comes with presents for them. They don’t pay much attention to the complicated schedules or the messiness of it all.
I long for my childhood days, when even in my broken home, all of my mother’s family gathered at Oma and Papa’s to be together on Christmas day. This is what seemed normal to me as a child. Now we contend with multiple celebrations, over multiple days, in multiple states! As I watched my mother open the few gifts we got her on Christmas Adam, I wondered if we gave her something similar (or gasp! Identical) for her birthday earlier in the year. I already know that my daughter and wife received the same gift I lovingly picked out for them from another family member this Christmas.
Although Christ coming into our lives is truly astonishing, the way in which Jesus comes into the world is really quite normal. His birth is not marked by a lot of pomp and circumstance (okay, other than the choirs of angels bit). Jesus isn’t born in a great city like Rome or Jerusalem, but in the ordinary town of Bethlehem. It is not the kings that come to visit the baby Jesus first, but the shepherds, the common working folk.
He isn’t born by an important politician or a movie star but by a simple, courageous, young virgin. Mary is not a glamorous parenting guru, but a young girl with a determined faith and abiding trust in God. Mary did not want to give birth to her child in a manger far away from her home in Nazareth. In creating a birth plan, Mary likely would have chosen to deliver with her family and friends close by, in the warmth and safety of her own home.
Jesus’ birth is messy. All births are.
Today we strive so hard to ensure that pregnant women are warm and safe and comfortable, surrounded by supportive family and friends in a hospital or birthing center or at home with a midwife present. That is the ideal situation for giving birth. But from his birth, Jesus swims against the stream of what is easy and neat. And this is good news.
We all know that in our own lives, more often than not, things don’t work out exactly as we planned. From the food that we prepare, to the gifts we will give, sometimes our Christmas gets messy. The dog gets into the turkey, our uncles get into a huge argument and stop speaking to one another, Grandma got your daughter the same toy that you selected. Messes like these are unavoidable at Christmas, and really, they happen all the time. But the good news that comes to us at Christmas is that Jesus is most certainly present with us in all of the messiness of life. Even when we are a mess, when we can barely hold it together, and even if (when) everything falls apart on us, Jesus still comes to us in our need, inviting us into relationship with him and with our creator.
In Christmas, God comes to be with us, as one of us, in the person of Jesus Christ. Born into humble circumstances, from birth, Jesus challenges the idea that life should be lived without messes. He is God’s greatest gift of love and acceptance, the gift that keeps on giving regardless of how messy our lives get.
May you and yours have the merriest (and messiest) Christmas season.