I don’t like messy things. I like gleaming cars that look like you just drove them off the lot, straight offices featuring lots of burled wood and immaculate homes that look like they jumped out of a magazine. I like weed-less, fresh trimmed lawns with perfectly edged sidewalks and landscaping that shows someone thought ahead. I know that control is an illusion but it is one of my favorite illusions and if I can’t control all aspects of my life, I can certainly see to it that my shirts are crisp, my suits are pressed, my belt and my shoes are the same color and my socks match.
Christmas isn’t that.
Christmas is messy.
You have the pre-Christmas mess, the actual Christmas mess and the post-Christmas mess.
The pre-Christmas mess is the way that every possible dysfunction of families comes out as we go through the stress of trying to sculpt a perfect holiday with imperfect people. It’s like taking motor oil, old tires and scrap metal and being told to make a good pizza.
The actual Christmas mess emerges just after opening the presents on Christmas morning. Suddenly, the ethereal perfection of the night before explodes into mountains of ripped paper, towers of empty boxes, discarded plastic cases and bulging plastic bags.
The post-Christmas mess begins the second the last bite of your primary meal is taken. Just swallow and wait forty-five seconds. Seemingly out of nowhere are thousands of dishes to wash, tons of food to put away, square miles of carpet to vacuum and a tree to take down. Both indoor and outdoor decorations seem suddenly garish and our need for the illusion of control compels us to clean up this mess and clean it up now!
Dr. John Hayes was my seminary professor at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. He told us that people who glibly ate chicken sandwiches but didn’t have the courage to pull the head off a live chicken will never understand the Old Testament.
Bible life was messy.
When I took up deer hunting a couple of decades back, I killed a buck in my first season. On television they shoot the deer, have a religious moment (where they thank God for the writhing, dying deer and try not to cry), find some coffee, do cave art on the interiors of their pick-up trucks and then try to sell you guns and bows and stuff. Television is awesome. In real life you have to drag the deer somewhere and gut it. Anyone who has ever spent a frigid winter morning inside a warm deer carcass hanging from a tree and has seen the steam that rises from the entrails knows something of messy.
Have you ever witnessed a live birth? The best thing I have ever seen in my life is the birth of my two children. I was truly hoping Melissa would go early on at least one of them and I could do the delivery. If we would have had YouTube back then, my enthusiasm would have been even higher.
When I was serving the St. James Church in Manchester, Georgia, my son Zec was five or six years old. Melissa was making supper and a National Geographic wildlife special was babysitting him while I gave her moral support. Suddenly, Zec burst into the kitchen with a wide eyed look of terror, “Mom, you should be glad you are not a sheep.” I could tell what he had witnessed on television had shaken him to his core. “They have babies out of their bottoms!” Then he rushed back to the living room not wanting to miss another second of the messiest thing he had ever seen.
In Luke, we find a Christmas story a world away from antiseptic. Scandal has emerged in a small Galilee town as an unmarried Joseph and Mary were expecting a child amidst her claims she is a virgin and wild stories of angels and dreams. The Romans have required a census and this birth happens in Bethlehem, rather than at home eighty miles away in Nazareth. “No Vacancy” signs are flashing as the labor contractions get closer and closer together. The only shelter they can find is with the animals outside an inn. The child is delivered into Joseph’s bloody arms and wrapped in strips of cloth…it is a pauper’s birth and the whole thing is quite messy.
We all look so good at Christmas time don't we?
We are not messy at all! We look like what you would get if Ward Cleaver hired Norman Rockwell to do a painting of the congregation at Mayberry First. But we are all a bit messier than we appear.
So is Christmas.
Christmas is God doing something about a mess called sin. Jesus was born into a mess and died in a mess, to clean up the mess we have made of our lives.
And that…is worth celebrating!