A Christmas Message | Sheila Melot
Isn’t it wonderful to hear that a relative or close friend has just had a baby. Some of us will want to go and visit – that very morning if possible. For us this Christmas morning, it’s like the morning after the night before for Mary. And the visitors come very quickly – shepherds in her case.
But remembering giving birth myself, I couldn’t help wondering how she was feeling that morning. I remember how I was feeling - first I was adamant – I would never ever have another baby (although I did) and second, I could not understand why human beings couldn’t just lay eggs, like birds do. To be honest, I couldn’t have coped with any strangers arriving to see either me or my baby.
But the story doesn’t say that’s how Mary felt. We’ve woven some beautiful stories into the bible’s account of what happened at Jesus’ birth. Over the centuries people’s imagination has produced works of art as well as rather cute school nativity plays. And in the process I think we’ve often lost sight of the reality of it - the sheer mess of it all.
Some churches today balk at letting a real donkey in, in case natural processes take place which will need clearing up afterwards, and might offend churchgoers’ sensibilities. But imagine the situation in a stable.
And the smells. Even those shepherds – the muddy feet for a start They wouldn’t have stopped to have a good wash, change their clothes, before they hurried into Bethlehem to find this baby Jesus.
And there was Mary, this very young woman, who had heard such wonderful things from the angel - that her baby would be called the Son of the Most High; that he would be the king that the Jewish people had been waiting for, for centuries. The shepherds confirmed this with what the angel had told them – this baby was the Messiah – the Christ. How could she square this with the way that there wasn’t even room for him to come into the world comfortably? Surely God wouldn’t bring his Son into such a mess.
But yes – God did. We have no reason to think this was a bit of a mistake. Out of all the places Jesus could be born, not only did God not choose a palace for the birth, but he didn’t even choose a normal simple home. And out of all the people who God could have told the news to so it could spread widely, he chose shepherds who were generally despised and discounted by most of the population.
So much amazing glorious experience, so much awful confusing mess. And maybe that sums up for many of us, our story as Christians. The glory and the mess.
Perhaps for some of you here today, you find it hard to square your belief in God with the mess and darkness of the world – the politics, the conflicts, the disasters and tragedies whether on a grand scale or a personal one. Perhaps the way you cope on a day like this is to focus on the wonder of Jesus’ birth but block out any thoughts of our broken world or your own personal problems. Keep things in separate boxes. And then perhaps most of the other days, you have to focus on the mess that’s around – Brexit, problems at work, family issues, health issues, but then do you block out wonderment at our Creator God and his Son our Saviour.
But I think if Christmas tells us one vital thing – it’s that God doesn’t look at it like that. He didn’t avoid the mess and darkness of the world. He didn’t let his own utter holiness stop him choosing to enter into it. God embraced our human situation in all its brokenness and today he offers his love and presence in the midst of it all, not separate from it.
John says: God became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood. He became one of us, both to show us how to live and to be the Saviour that the world needed, because we couldn’t save ourselves. As he lived and loved, the mess got worse, not better. The religious leaders who should have recognised him as the one they had been waiting for, refused to do so. The darkness of the world closed in on him – that life-light – and on Good Friday that light seemed to have been put out for ever. But as John’s Gospel says ‘The Life-light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.’ Easter Sunday was the proof of that and it didn’t stop there.
In the ghastliest situations in our broken world, that light still shines – the darkness can never extinguish it. God is with us, at our darkest times.
So on this Christmas morning, you like me are offered a choice. Imagine it’s your stable and you realise who is lying in that manger. What are you going to do? Clean it up as best you can? Anti-bacterial liquids, buckets of boiling water, lots of clean straw. Get the animals put somewhere else. That’s one option. Or are you going to find the humility to welcome Jesus into the stable as it is. Into your reality. And just feel so delighted that God knew all along what the stable was like but that’s where he wants to be.
On Christmas morning God chose to embrace the mess and muddle to reveal his glory. Every day God chooses to embrace us in our mess and muddle so that if we will let him, he can reveal his glory as he transforms our lives.
May this Christmas be for you an experience of his transforming presence and love in the reality of your everyday life.