Week 1 Sunday: A Messy Nativity
"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.—Luke 2: 6–7
I still remember witnessing my wife giving birth to our first child, Noah. The wait of the previous nine months had seemed agonizingly slow, but during those final moments in the hospital, everything accelerated to a velocity approaching light speed. After warnings that his arrival was imminent, I’d been quickly ushered into a closet-sized space adjacent to the delivery room and instructed to don a white outfit that seemed part HAZMAT suit, part late-Elvis stage jumpsuit sans the bedazzling. Just as I was finishing fastening myself in, I was led to my wife’s side, where I essentially became a passionate, well-meaning—though incidental—spectator. Up until that point, I thought I’d prepared myself. I’d attended all the classes along with her, had countless lengthy conversations about what to expect, and read all the requisite books to feel properly equipped for what I was about witness. I had no idea. The sounds and scents and sights were the kind of disorienting sensory overload that transcends words. I stayed upright—but barely.
We tend to sanitize the birth story of Jesus, fashioning it into a pristine, shimmering nativity scene adorned with gold accents and residing comfortably on a hallway table or atop a fireplace mantle. It all becomes so benign and serene that we forget the visceral reality of the moment, that it was as loud and chaotic and messy as childbirth is. Jesus was pushed through Mary’s birth canal and into a strange world. To miss this fact is to cheapen the event by trying to soften it into something neat and orderly, when in truth (as with all births) there was surely mess and chaos in the moment.
We do this with our spiritual journeys too, wanting them to be comfortable and clean, desiring something attractive that we can easily accessorize our lives with—but that isn’t reality, is it? Life comes with the collateral damage of living, with failed plans and relational collapse, with internal struggle and existential crises, and we carry these things with us into this season. The good news is we don’t need to discard our messiness to step into this season, and we couldn’t even if we wanted to. Bring every bit of your flawed self and all your chaotic circumstances to this day. Welcome the mess."
..."When we place our feet firmly in the dirt and dust of the everyday within the gospel stories, we see Jesus getting low to meet us there. The spiritual journey is spent largely in the low and shadow places. We are there in that beautiful lowness when we live humbly. We are there when we seek forgiveness. We are there in our grief and suffering. We are there when we kneel in reverent awe. We are there when we spend ourselves on behalf of someone else. When we place ourselves in these postures, our perspective changes, our attitude toward people shifts, and we become agents of love in a way that actually resembles Jesus. We perpetuate his character through our very lives.
When Jesus offers the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” he reminds us that as we walk the road of Advent the invitation is not to escape this place to an elevated heavenly sanctuary somewhere; it is to bring heaven down. Immanuel means “God with us.” In other words, it is Jesus getting low. This is really good news for us here on the ground. Let’s head to the low places together."