I’m a lover of paper magazines, especially in November and December. Not the online versions, but the hard copy delights that bring joy to my mailbox. They are Instagram in my hands as I scrutinize every page and decorated table- the white tablecloths, the garlands perfectly winding through the centerpieces, the gold lined napkins perfectly placed beside the red and green plates, the dimmed lighting and flickering candles. *sigh*…so gorgeous.
But inevitably, my mind does wander… and wonder. Do those tables always look so perfect? Do their kids ever nudge the plates or leave chocolate finger prints on the white table cloths? Is the table actually discolored and scratched beneath the fabric? My eyes glance over at my own dining room table, covered in a Christmas sewing project… and then my Kitchen Aid mixer on my counter, surrounded by specks of flour and leftover spices that someone forgot to put away (ok, that someone was me.) During December, I do decorate our abode with garland, lights and shiny Hobby Lobby treasures, but it can also a flour-y, paper-y house of chaos. It’s definitely not worthy of an HGTV spread because it can be…well… messy.
But if we are honest, isn’t much of the holiday season itself a bit messy?
It’s a time of complicated family dynamics- managing relationships and opinions while spending hours upon hours coordinating gatherings, meals and gifts. It can be joyful, but also difficult.
It’s a time of busy schedules- holiday recitals, school dress-up days, work parties, teacher gifts, church musicals and a bulging calendar. It can be fun, but also overwhelming.
It’s a time of conflicting emotions- a season of joy for many, but a lake of grief for others who are missing their loved ones. “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is often very, very difficult for families missing a stocking or a seat at the dinner table.
We all exist somewhere in the middle of the mess, don’t we? It’s the natural ebb and flow of life, the days when we are on par and the days when we are many shots behind. The times when our houses resemble magazine covers verses the times they look like crime scenes. During the Christmas season I am always reminded that God exists in the mess, too, in our ups and downs, successes and failures. He doesn’t shy away from any of it and doesn’t wait for people to reach perfection before pursuing them. Throughout the Bible we see numerous examples of how He redeems messy humans and considers them worthy to be a part of His holy family.
I think of how His chosen, beloved people, the Israelites, were CLEARLY imperfect people. My goodness, He rescued them from slavery in Egypt, into a place of freedom, only to hear them dramatically grumbling about their empty stomachs! “Oh that we were back in Egypt”, they moaned, “and that the Lord killed us there! For there we had plenty to eat!”- Exodus 16:3 (Which emoji do I insert here? The eyeroll or the head in the hands?)
I think of how the Israelites spent the entire Old Testament promising obedience to God but then “Look, squirrel!!” So God would rescue them again from their troubled selves. Over and over, He chose them, forgave them, wiped them off and put them back on their feet. I have heard people say “the Old Testament God is an angry God” but when I read through it, I see an extraordinary example of love and faithfulness. (I also see an example of an exasperated parent forced to repeat himself over and over again and maybe banging his head on the wall, but we can talk about that another time.) The miracle of His relationship with His people is that He loved them anyway.
I also think of Jesus’ family tree in Matthew 1, mentioning the names of only five women. Who were they? Perfectly righteous individuals who would be worth bragging about? Nope. They were MESSY. Tamar was twice-widowed and solidified her place in the family tree by tricking her father-in-law into conceiving a child with her; Rahab is thought to be the town prostitute; Ruth was a Moabite, a member of the neighboring cursed people; Uriah’s Wife (Bathsheba) cheated on her husband and conceived a child with King David; and finally… there was Mary, the scandalous teenager who was pregnant before she was married. Interesting, isn’t it? If God required us to be perfect, why would He choose such imperfect people to be part of his family? I think that answer is clear: He loves us anyway.
Christmas is neither the beginning nor the end of the story, but the beautiful middle chapter in God’s plan for us- when He saw us, acknowledged our messy selves, loved us anyway and finally came to rescue us. Christ coming to Earth in a messy, dirty stable and running the race on our behalf erased the stain of imperfection and allowed us to live in a state of grace. For this reason, we celebrate Christmas- that we don’t have a God who is aloof and far away, but a God who is called Emmanuel, “God With Us”. And He is– here with us, in the mess, alongside us, always. ❤️
So off you go. Wishing you all a Merry, Messy Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Original Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash