There are two versions of the Christmas story. Manger scene # 1: The cleaned up version – this is the one told at most Christmas concerts and the one represented on most mantel pieces. This is the one where Mary and Joseph are pristine, the angels are singing, the three Magi are carrying gifts, Mary is looking remarkable thin considering she recently gave birth, the animals coats are perfectly clean and no one is pooping or smelling. Everyone is smiling or worshipping. It is a tweet-able moment.
Manger scene #2: The messy version – manure is all around, Mary is screaming out, Jesus is crying, Joseph is afraid, Herod is killing, a young family is fleeing in the middle of the night and weeping can be heard throughout the land.
I’m so glad the second version is the one closer to the truth. God came into our messes. He came into the real world, with all its messiness and even evil. God came, for you and me, smack dab in the middle of our mess.
God is not looking for those with a cleaned up perfect act. He is not looking for the perfect. God moves towards the mess. He seems to have a special affinity for messiness.
In fact, in a parable Jesus tells about two guys who are praying to God at the temple, he reminds us perfection is the last thing He is looking for. See, one man, a Pharisee, the religious rule-keepers and “holier-than-thou” people of Jesus day, prayed by thanking God he was not messy. He was not like other people, doing evil, committing adultery, and generally making a mess. He reminded God he was keeping the religious rules. He was keeping the pristine imagine. He was being manger scene #1, the cleaned up version and he thought God must be oh so pleased.
The other man praying at the temple that day was a tax collector, a hated traitor, a sell-out to the oppressive government of the day. He was not religious. He was not pristine. And he knew it. He stood at a distance, did not dare to even look up to heaven (which would have been the customary way to pray in the day), beat his breast and said “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” He was manger scene #2, messy to his core, no pretenses, no cleaning up his act, standing in the middle of his manure and admitting it.
Jesus concludes the parable by saying this man, the one standing in the manure pile, is the one who went home justified, went home right with God.
While we might prefer manger scene #1, God much prefers manger scene #2. I need to stop trying to be manger scene #1. It’s oh so tiring and it is not getting you and I any closer to God. Us leaders can sometimes be the best ones at projecting manger scene #1. Give it up. Bring your manure.
The Christmas story is messy. That is very good news for me. When I’m honest, guess which one my heart and life most closely represents? Guess which one I need to be able to show to Jesus? Guess which one frees me from being a pristine statue - to God and to others? Guess which one allows me to receive the mercy I need?
I need Jesus. Right smack in the middle of the manure, not just when I’m all pristine and cleaned up.
And as someone who recognizes I need Jesus and seeks to be a follower of Jesus, I should be known as a person that moves towards the messes. Jesus did. Jesus moves towards the messes.
Christians are to be known as people that move towards messes.
The good Samaritan is celebrated because he got off his donkey and moved towards the messiness of the beat-up stranger on the side of the road. Jesus moved to the lepers, the unclean and fear-inducing diseased people of his day. He had the tough conversation with the rich young ruler who wanted so desperately to hold onto his wealth as his security blanket. He had the heart-piercing, jaw-dropping conversations with the Pharisees who wanted to hold onto their religious traditions more than they wanted to hold onto the grace of God.
Jesus did not avoid the messy. Jesus moved towards the messes. He still does! May we be known as a people that move towards the messes.
What if we saw messes as an invitation from God? A sign from God indicating a spot where He will shine His light.
Today – how can you, your youth group, your small group, your church move towards the messes?
Befriending the: pregnant and alone, LGBT community, singles, widows, poor, rich who wonder if people just love them for their money, broken, hurting, childless, addicted, empty inside, oppressed, overwhelmed, new comer, adulterer, fundamentalist, extremist...
Move towards the mess, trusting God is already there with His grace, love and compassion. God is comfortable around messes, after all he was born in a barn.
What mess have you been trying to avoid that you have to wade right in?
- a tough conversation?
- an issue in your neighbourhood?
- a group in your neighbourhood?
- a person?
- a partnership with another church or community group?
What steps can you take to move towards the mess? Jesus did. May we. As we join God in changing Atlantic Canada (or wherever you are) one neighbourhood at a time, let us be people that move towards the messes.
Have a very Messy Christmas!