Cleaning Up Christmas

Gold and silver drip from the Christmas Tree. Soft angelic music floats around the dimly lit room. A warm fire crackles in the background. Neatly wrapped packages sparkle with anticipation for Christmas Morning.

Standing back and admiring this perfect Christmas moment, I quickly snap a picture.

Luckily, I preserved that millisecond of impending Christmas Joy. Immediately after, the muddy dog and boy raced in from the backyard, tossed a mangled stuffed alligator into my tree, and a glass ornament from the very top smashed to pieces, all over those beautifully wrapped presents.

Again I take out the broom, spray bottle, and trash can. For the hundredth time this week, I find myself sweeping up a mess of a Christmas to come. I wipe down the presents, one by one, so that they sparkle once again. I pull that chewed up alligator from the twisted branches of a now crooked tree. Rearranging the ornaments, so each one it is presentable, I polish and face their best side out.

But even if your dog and boy keep their muddy paws at a distance, I have a feeling you are on the dirty floor right next to me, trying to clean up for Christmas.

Advent is this time of the year when we wait for Jesus. Weeks before the Christmas celebration, we set ourselves up to look for God’s great promise of a Savior. But, our life is filled with flying alligators aimed right for our beautiful Christmas Tree. These messy complications are hurled at us out of nowhere. Chaos and muck spew all over our perfectly planned peaceful moments. Endlessly, we sweep up the dirt, and try to pose for that happy Christmas picture.

This whole time we try to preserve the polished, reverent, beauty of Christmas.  But really, Christmas isn’t all that pretty.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” — John 1:14

The Lord was coming to the earth. He would set His foot on the very ground He created. Every child since Adam and Eve had been waiting in anticipation for this moment; when the promise of God would arrive and destroy the evil reign of Satan, sin and death. But, talk about the flying alligator that smashed those perfectly planned expectations. The Word of God came unexpectedly and shamefully dressed as a tiny, dirty infant.

Lowly and humble, He was born of an unwed mother. Light of Light, God of God, He ironically had no words to announce that silent Christmas night. Descending on a poor unknown town, the King of kings was hidden in a feeding trough.

A helpless baby is not a beautiful nor impressive God for us to celebrate on Christmas Day. There was no teaching or instruction on the lips of that fragile little boy. He just laid there, breathing in and out. When he woke up in the middle of the night, He was cold and hungry. Mary nursed the baby Jesus back to sleep, and that is it.

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We have heard this story hundreds of times, and when faced with such a strangely disappointing story, we can’t help but try and sweep up the mess of Christmas before He gets here.

We polish up His story with angels and Magi and expensive gifts fit for a king. We clean up the untidy edges with acts of kindness and giving. We decorate the great Christmas story to reflect our very best sentiments and efforts. Then we take a quick picture before it all falls apart.

But what if we let our Christmas Tree reflect the mess of Christmas? We would be looking at ordinary presents, no sparkle or glitter, just simple elements like water, bread, and wine. We would lift up the torturous twisted branches of a crooked bloody tree. We would not need to rearrange the ornaments, for not even one is presentable; they are smashed and jagged hearts exposed for all to see.

What if we just left the mess of Christmas alone? The chaos and mess before the nice-looking picture is where Jesus was sent to dwell. Dirty manger, unpopular parents. Jesus put on flesh, and it wasn’t pretty. But God chose the shameful muck into which to send His Son, for you. And even now, the chaos and mess of our life is still where Jesus comes to dwell.

He comes right now while the saints of God chew on His flesh. “Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you.” He arrives for all people when they drink down His blood. “Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins.”  The Lord of All visits His people in ordinary, tangible, even disgraceful ways. Jesus descended on our muddy messy earth, but not just at Christmas time – but all the time.

This is the sacred mess that we celebrate at Christmas.

The God of Heaven and Earth chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. The God who created all things chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God the Father, who sent His only Son to die, chose what is low and despised in the world, to bring to nothing those things that are. This audacious character of God is the sweet voice of mercy for us, filthy sinners.

So it is in vain that we continually try to clean up the mess of Christmas. It is useless to place all the pieces back where you think they belong. It is silly to polish up the gifts of God so others will value them. Jesus will continue to shatter our most precious ornaments. And, because of Christmas, He is known for showing up for us in the dirtiest of places.

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