Bethlehem would have been anything but a peaceful, idyllic village. Rather, it would have been crowded; homes overflowing with distant relatives; friends reuniting over small outdoor fires with food and spirits. I think it's safe to cross off the word ‘quiet’ as a descriptor for that night.
I also wonder if Luke ever met a woman in childbirth. We’re not exactly quiet. While giving birth is beautiful, it is also loud, messy, and painful.
Mary does not seem to have anyone at her side to help deliver this little one beyond Joseph and a handful of domesticated animals. Animals that would have been rather noisy, smelly, and messy. Sheep baaing, donkey’s braying, cows mooing, and for all we know-- cats meowing, dogs barking, and chickens clucking. This manger was anything but peaceful, clean, or idyllic- so let’s cross those descriptors off too.
Meanwhile, there is an actual chorus of angels singing beyond the village limits, proclaiming this good news, not to the busy village, but to those who lived on the margins. Inviting those outsiders in, foreshadowing the heart of Jesus’ ministry, where again and again Jesus stood first and foremost with those his culture cast aside. This beautiful, beloved, and motley crew of shepherds and their sheep overwhelmed the streets of Bethlehem to go meet the Christ-child.
This scene is anything but serene, peaceful, clean, quiet, and beautiful- at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, the night that Christ was born was complete and utter, holy chaos. And here is why that’s Good News.
The image popular culture lifts up of the night Christ was born has been carefully curated, much like our family photos on Christmas cards or our posts on social media. We have a tendency to put forth the image of ourselves and families that we believe others are expecting, even if behind those images and posts are something much more fragile. We keep hidden to ourselves the depth of our loneliness, the strain in our marriages, the weariness of caregiving, the uncertainty of illness, the exhaustion of depression, the lack of satisfaction and meaning in our work, and so much more. We tuck away in some far off corner of our souls the devastating pain of our world’s brokenness, stunned into stillness as we struggle with the pandemics of economic, racial, and environmental injustice, let alone whatever covid may be doing to upend our lives. We do not know what to do or how to be, as we grapple with our many different weights and burdens. So, we post a beautiful photo on instagram and get a moment of peace; when a friend asks how we are, we say ‘I’m fine, it’s fine, everything is fine.’
Similarly, we often turn to God attempting to be ‘fully put together’. We wait to mindfully engage with God until we are in the right place--whether that be a particular chair in our home, in a church sanctuary, or while walking in nature. We wait to talk to God until we are clear on what to say in our prayer--figuring out exactly what it is we are asking, thanking, or praising God for; or waiting until we can pick up our prayer book and say the proper prayer for the occasion. Sometimes we don’t even dare to talk to God on our own, and instead ask others we trust to do it for us. And if we are carrying too much shame or guilt, we might not even dare think about our prayer, let alone ask someone to pray for us.
All this is to say, that the myth that we must be ‘put together’ in order to approach God, to get real about whatever is happening in our lives is complete and utter bs. And the holy chaos of the night Christ was born is an annual reminder that we do not need to wait to encounter God in the clean, quiet, and put together moments of our lives. God broke forth into the world in a night of absolute and utter holy chaos. And thanks be to God!
Our God understands that life can often be messy, smelly, ugly, and broken. The Christ-child was not born into a perfect, idyllic scene. Rather the Christ-child, God’s love in human flesh, was born into our messiness, into the unwieldy chaos that drives our lives.
When our lives and world are on fire, God is with us.
When we can’t find a way forward and are overwhelmed by it all, God is with us.
Our God understands the true depths of every one of our experiences, and knows what we struggle with in every corner of our being. This is Good News.
I have no interest in worshipping a God who does not fully understand my most profound pain or my most life giving joy. I want to worship our God, who sees us in our messiness, and loves us because of it. I want to worship our God because she sees the brokenness of our world and loves us anyways. Seeing and knowing deeply that we are capable of so much more if we are willing to let Love be our guide.
Because Love is the Way. On that messy, beautiful, night that Christ was born, Love came into the world to show us the Way. Amidst the holy chaos.
Dear ones, on this holiest of nights, how do you see God? Are you looking for the idyllic perfection of the nativity scene to deepen your relationship with God or are you learning to find God in the chaos?How do we train ourselves to look for God in that chaos? Where are you already seeing God in the chaos? What does God’s role in the chaos reveal to us about our God?
As we head into the holy chaos of our lives, may we feel God’s presence in each and every challenging and glorious moment, of this one wild, and precious life. Amen.
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