“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14
“…they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” – Matthew 1:23
…to be sure, it had to have been quite a night… everything I’ve ever imagined about the Nativity story is pristine…
Starlit night, warm breeze in the air, humble shepherds accompanied by lowing lambs to see this bundle of joy with skin so soft and shiny, obviously there was something special about this child… Kings from faraway lands, bowing before the manger, gifts within gold-laden parcels presented to honor this wee one… Yes, it must have been a silent night indeed…
Nah, let’s be real. No doubt it was a holy night, set apart for this event, but I doubt it was anything but flawless or comfortable. I mean, only weeks before Mary and Joseph had been commanded to up-and-leave town in order to comply with the government’s new edict to be “counted.” Despite presumably owning less than we do today, I’m certain there were still arrangements that needed to be made, and hastily…
Who would look after the chickens and goats?
What about the woodshop?
Oh, and the garden?
And, what if the baby comes while we’re away? I mean, what then?
It had to have been a bit stressful, especially for a lady nine-months pregnant!
And, then you come to the actual night of Jesus’ birth…
“Nah, no room here…”
“All our rooms are darn filled up!”
“We’re at capacity as it is, but there is this cave out back where we keep the livestock…”
Are you kidding me? Seriously? Sleep among livestock? Chance a rat or mouse scurrying over my toes in the twilight hours?! Huh, uh… No way. That’s not a “peaceful night” to me, much less silent!
But, being they were out of options, they took what was offered. And, with it, they accepted what came…
Amidst the stench of the sheep, the bellowing of the cattle, and the scratchy straw, God came.
“God with us…”
It’s difficult to imagine this unkempt scene, difficult to imagine it actually happened, difficult to understand the meaning…
The God of the universe who has all power, all knowledge, all ability to create circumstances, came down amidst… a MESS! But He is…
“God with us…”
In a season often marked by multiple family gatherings, such meetings tend to highlight the difficulties, the annoyances, the conflicts, and mostly how things are not as we wish they were… You know what I mean…
As I recently reflected on my own feelings of disappointment in family relationships, I was struck with the heart of the Christmas story. Amidst our mess, God CAME.
He could have waited for modern conveniences, say, electricity, for one, or anesthetic so Mary wouldn’t have to feel as much pain during labor (thanks, Great-Grandma Eve!). He could have waited for Jesus to come once there was vacancy in the local inns. He could have said, “Heck with Mankind…! Let them save themselves. After all, they prefer to give me lip-service rather than relationship. Really, they only want me around when they’ve messed up and need saving from a situation they got themselves into. Nah, I’ll just stand back and watch.” But He didn’t do that. No, He came anyway…
He came to join us in the mess.
He came to heal the mess.
He came to suffer with us in the mess.
And so, as I consider the mess that is this world and that is our family, I, too, want to strive to be like Jesus. My tendency is to run away from pain, physical, emotional, or relational. Rather than press in, I tend to get out!
But, Jesus has given me the ultimate example… Be present. Walk through the mud and mire with those I love. After all, hasn’t He done that for me?
“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5
In those times I’ve struggled, it has been His Body, the Church, that has held out a hand to heal my wounds, share in my difficulties, offer encouragement when all I want to do is beat myself down and punish myself for the stupid and careless things I’ve done. No, not a physical church, but the people He indwells. It has been the words of comfort, simple presence, sharing in the things that trouble or excite me, that has kept me on the path of perseverance, towards hope and healing.
So, as the New Year approaches, I resolve to choose to be present. Jesus came among the mess, walked with some pretty gruff guys, and, in the end, suffered exponentially on my behalf, your behalf. His goal was that neither I, nor you, nor anyone else would have to live without Him forever. And, so, I’ll choose to let Him in and be with me in my mess, even as I try to be present with others amidst their mess. Won’t you?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:16-18