The story is old and well known. We've heard it thousands of times in word, play, song, and picture. Mary birthed Jesus in a stable, wrapped the babe in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.
Christmas has become a neatly arranged, squeaky clean, all-too-cute story. It's sweet and pretty. It's "merry." But really, it was messy. Very messy.
But, if we read carefully, we see that it was neither neat nor clean. It was all too real.
An unwed teenage girl is pregnant. She and her fiance leave town. (Was it really because of some census? Or was it because of the shame that they had to leave their home town? Was there "no room in the inn" because of a heavy tourist trade? Or was it because none of Joseph's relatives would take them in? Hmm).
So, a cattle barn will have to do. Have you ever been in a cattle barn? Or around farm animals? Have you ever seen cows or donkeys snort and drool? Not a pretty sight. Is a stable a clean and sanitary environment? The smell is. . . .um. . . .well. . . "strong" to say the least. A manger is not some cute, folksy ornament picked up on sale at K-Mart. It is a feeding trough. Just the place those animals have been snorting and snotting and drooling. Lovely.
Have you ever witnessed the birth of a child? Even in today's sterile, hospital environments, there is blood, body fluids, goo, etc. And birth with no anesthesia? We are talking pain. Screams. Sweat. Terror. Yes, the birth of a child is a marvelous, joyous, miraculous occasion. I was present at the birth of my two children. The exhilaration is impossible to describe. But it is a messy situation, even with sterile gowns and attendant physicians, nurses, and technicians.
Shepherds were low lifes. The bottom end. Had they been drinking something to keep them warm as they "watched their flocks by night?" After talk of visions of angels, did folk wonder what kind of mushrooms were growing in that field? Who would take seriously the word of a shepherd?" A bunch of ignorant day laborers.
The story of God coming into the world as a human being is not a "pretty" story. It is rough, smelly, and messy, to say the very least. We've just heard it too much to catch just how messy. Into the smell of animals, manure, fungus-laden straw, and shifty characters, an out-of-wedlock teenage girl gives birth in pain and terror. And we think we have problems.
God-become-human happened in the middle of a really shitty situation. Can we have anything any shittier? If God can show up there, I believe God will show up anywhere. Even for us, and with us, and to us.
There is no word or legend that says the stable was miraculously cleaned up and sterilized. We are the ones who've done that. God comes in the shit, and lives in the shit.
So, no matter what our shit may be, God shows up. God lives with us in the midst of it. God-with-us.
To know, to realize that God is not what so many would make God out to be: the One who comes and cleans us up to make us just like everyone else. God does not come to make us into any image other than God's own.
There is no evidence that that image looks like middle-class, white, Protestant, straight America. Even though many would like everyone to look and be that way, God comes to us all, and each.
In the middle of broken dreams, shattered lives, shitty situations, and smelly messes, God comes. God-with-us.
A Messy Christmas is a Merry Christmas, dears.