The light of the star flows perfectly through a serendipitously placed window and shines down on the residents of the architecturally and aesthetically perfect stable, designed and decorated by Martha Stewart.
The cattle are lowing the tune of “Away in a Manger”, somehow in perfect three-part harmony, as they nibble from a neat pile of hay. The color palette of Joseph’s dry-cleaned robes is perfectly matched to his skin tone and the wood of the stable. Perfect hair peeks out from a clean and pressed hood and the original Madonna holds a perfect baby in a perfect lap.
The well-groomed shepherds were accompanied by spotless lambs and they show up just before the fashionably late Magi with their fanciful robes and exotic gifts. In perfect choreography, the shepherds and Magi kneel simultaneously on opposite sides of the softly glowing manger.
It was warm and silent and everyone was happy and comfortable and Thomas Kinkaid was in the corner deftly capturing every detail.
And… That’s NOT how it happened at all.
Which is good for us. Because if the world that Jesus came into was perfect, He wouldn’t be needed. Because if He came for people who were flawless, meticulously dressed and accompanied by obedient farm animals, then most of us would be out of luck.
But it’s good for even better reasons. It’s good for us for reasons that I find great comfort in:
1) Luke 2:8… “shepherds living out in the fields”. They weren’t standing. They weren’t hanging out for a few hours. That’s where they lived. In all their odorous glory with the only company that could tolerate them (sheep). These were the night watchmen of the day. They would look UP to chimney sweeps and street cleaners from the 1800s. They were dirty and smelly and they got to hang out with Jesus.
2) Luke 2:6-7… “the time came for the baby…” and “she gave birth…”. Ummm. Gross. Not the miracle of birth, that’s…well… miraculous. But the experience itself isn’t the cleanest, most organized, best-moment-ever for mother and baby. It’s messy, loud, undignified and whimpery… and that’s just the father. It’s into this mess that the Christ-child first enters our world.
3) Matthew 2:11… the Magi “saw the child with his mother Mary…” and “presented him with gifts”. This wasn’t conveniently arranged with the shepherds, it was two years later. (See Mt 2:16). The very first Christmas presents were late.
Has the season completely emptied you out? Have you lost the connection to the “majesty”? How many times have your efforts outlasted your deodorant? Have you been “living in the fields”? It seems, then, that Christmas is for you.
Has it been a tangle of wrong places and wrong times? Crazy schedules and “how did I get here?” moments? Have you wept openly and wondered how in the name of anything holy you wound up where you are? It seems that Christmas is for you.
Are you a bit late with some of the shopping? If the first Christmas gifts were two years late, you’ve still got time. Christmas is definitely for you. In fact, take the first three weeks of January, too.
So let’s not try to create the perfect picture and then invite Him in. I don’t think He’s interested in that. Instead, let’s let Him in right now and right where we are, no matter what. The picture of perfection isn’t where He belongs, it’s what He is. And He belongs right in the middle of all of our mess.
Jesus doesn’t care if you smell, so long as you seek Him out and your worship is genuine. He can show up no matter how messy your life is as long as there’s a place for Him. Even if the best you’ve got is a food trough. As for the gifts… We all get it. The heart of the giver is more important that the timeliness of the gift. And if it’s not, there’s always the gift receipt.