When I look at the nativity scenes scattered around my house and throughout the stores I wonder at the tidiness of it all. It seems too serene, too perfect. Something is not quite right. The nativity that speaks to me isn’t the glass set I brought home from Mexico or even the one I made years ago with my grandmother. The one I resonate with most this year is the Little People nativity set my son has. I bought it two years ago so he could grow with it and learn hands on who each person was in the Christmas story. I wanted him to see Jesus, to touch him. I wanted him to learn who the wise men were without me telling him to keep his hands off.
As you can imagine a three year old playing with his very own nativity is quite a sight. After a session of play it looks as though a nuclear bomb has exploded in the quiet town of Bethlehem. Animals lay strewn across the floor. Mary and Joseph get mixed up in a pile with wise men and the innkeeper. I’ve even seen the Angel sleeping off the effects of a long night of celebration in the inn on a bed. It’s a mess, a beautiful wonderful mess. My son is learning and discovering what this story is and what Christmas is really about.
It seems so fitting to me. Jesus enters the world and chaos ensues. God-with-us appears to turn everything on it’s head. And it does, doesn’t it? God-with-us pushes and tests, pokes and prods. God-with-us forces us outside of that which is comfortable. It means that God is with us. The God of great expectation is with us expecting things, accepting no mailed in answers. Always wanting more and pushing us to become who we were created to be.
In truth I prefer the messy version of events. The version that’s never talked about where the carpenter becomes a midwife and he panics because the baby is coming and once a baby starts to come, there’s no stopping it. The one where the baby comes out crying and his teenage mother isn’t quite sure what to do so she begins a never ending stream of attempting to feed, checking his diaper and holding him tight to her chest. The story where the young couple with a new baby are greeted by shepherds covered in dirt who want a glimpse of their new, finally sleeping child. Imagine the panic this young couple might’ve faced. Entering a town with no room only to end up delivering in a stable. It’s beautiful and messy.
As a people we often speak about wanting a revival or wanting God’s spirit to stir us in some fashion but I have to ask the question, do we really mean it? Because meaning it invites chaos and confusion into the mix. Meaning it means God might enter in his way, not ours. Meaning it requires surrendering control to his plan, not ours. From the surface the nativity scene looks fresh and clean but in reality the situation was anything but.
In reality we find Jesus entering the world in a spectacularly messy way. In a stable, with no attendants and people with no real idea of what to do. There were no midwives or doctors. There was nothing sanitary or orderly about it. In the end this entrance helped to set up who he was to become. A man of the people who loved and served even the least of them. A man who challenged and changed the status quo. Who loved so fully that he gave up his life for the sake of all.
To invoke the spirit of God is to invite in that which is messy and say yes to chaos. To invite God in sets us up for a great change and unexpected outcomes. Do we really want God-with-us?
I know I do. What about you?