Ames is beautiful this time of year. Snow piles up on rooftops and highlights the tree branches. Deep grooves in the snow left by sledders streak the hills. Lights wrap the awnings of snow-topped houses, and Christmas music jangles out of cozy storefronts and the crowded mall. It’s the most wonderful time of year. Parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, the song goes on. It’s not far from the truth.
The old high school gang got back together last night for a Christmas party complete with some particularly ugly sweaters and egg nog in fancy glasses. Adam and Chris treated us to some homemade Christmas poetry that probably won’t be published anytime soon.
But in the midst of the holiday cheer, I’m worried about something. I’m worried that against this backdrop, we forget.
There was nothing picturesque about His birth. Nothing. No Christmas lights. No inflatable Santa Claus. No snowman. No snow at all.
Mary and Joseph were confused (albeit faithful) teenagers. The hotel was booked, so they settled on a barn. He came out with that nasty gunk on Him just like every other baby. They laid Him in a feeding trough that animals used earlier that day. The straw was scratchy and uncomfortable. Shepherds were the only ones who showed up at the baby shower.
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t cute. The scene would make for a lousy Christmas Card.
Questions must have been running through Mary’s mind.
“Did something go wrong God? Did the inn reservations fall through? Isn’t this kid pretty important?”
If God is behind this vast cosmos, if He paints the sunsets and crafts the snowflakes, then He set it up like this. He went rugged, rough, and run-down as he chose the venue. He chose the dumpy town of Bethlehem as the setting. He chose average joes as the supporting cast and shepherds—Bethlehem’s blue collar workers—for the part-time roles.
In doing so, He sent a message to all of humanity.
I’m willing to get messy for the ones that I love.
We don’t put up lights and sing carols and give gifts to celebrate a distant God. Christmas is a celebration of a God who chose to get messy.
He entered into the fray. He dived into the muck. He got his hands dirty. Our rescuer, our redeemer, He had to be born like this. No other birth would do. It wasn’t pretty or cute. It was a beautiful necessity.
The Christmas Story reminds me of something that I can’t afford to miss: I need to be rescued. I need born-in-a-barn Jesus. I’m not clean on my own, and I wouldn’t be made clean without a God willing to come down and get messy. This is Christmas. This is the reason for the season.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
This Christmas eve, don’t forget.
Don’t forget the stench from the animals.
Don’t forget the humble cast of characters.
Don’t forget the itchy straw that our King laid on.
And then peek ahead in the story a little bit.
Don’t forget where this story ended.
Don’t forget the extent to which our King got messy for us.
This Christmas, look at the tree in your living room. Imagine it stripped of its branches. Imagine a smaller tree nailed perpendicular to the first. Know that He hung on a cross for you. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s a beautiful one. And it’s one to celebrate.