Posted on Dec 25, 2017 by Pastor Dave Whetter
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem…” (Luke 2:1-3).
When we think of the Christmas story with Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem, we often sugarcoat the story, don’t we? We imagine Mary in a white robe all clean and riding on a donkey into town as Joseph leads the donkey to this nice, clean, quiet “manger.” But if truth be told this is a messy story.
First of all, Mary got pregnant without being married, and the “father” of the child wasn’t Joseph. Now we know the whole truth, and Mary and Joseph knew what happened, but the world around them didn’t. The odds are, their lives were a mess at this point, but still they prepared for the birth of a beautiful child.
But it wasn’t just their lives that were a mess. A census had been called, and the purpose of that census was that the government, specifically the emperor, wanted to raise taxes, and so he wanted to make sure he knew exactly who his subjects were. Secondly, this census required men, and their families, to travel back to their hometowns to be counted, which made for chaos. People had to travel near and far for this census. Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, a small town just south of Jerusalem, but it was about 80 miles south from where he and Mary lived in Nazareth. When they arrived in Bethlehem they found it to be so crowded that people couldn’t even find places to sleep or eat. That small town must have been a mess with all those people. And, remember this happened over 2,000 years ago. There were no cars or trains or planes, and based on the social status of Mary and Joseph, this meant they most likely walked that distance. They walked 80 plus miles in a warm, arid climate. My guess is by the time they got there, if Mary had been wearing a white gown, it wasn’t white any more. My guess is, when they arrived in Bethlehem, that they were both a dirty mess and they arrived to a dirty, messy, overcrowded town filled with smells of animals, people, and foods. But it was home and even though things would have been a mess, they must have felt a sense of relief to be home. After several days of hard travel, it must have been a beautiful sight for that young pregnant mother and anxious father to see such a beautiful mess. It was into such a mess that Jesus was born.
But it wasn’t just Bethlehem that was a mess; the world around them was a mess, too. Rome was in control, and it ruled its subjects and lands with an “iron-fist,” which meant for the Jews, they had to live under the rules of Caesar, not God’s rules. To be faithful to God and God’s ways often meant being subject to harsh rebukes from Rome. Rome was a conquering empire and war was a way of life. Violence in society was common and it was a time of survival of the strongest and the fittest. Hunger and poverty were common and in fact more people lived in poverty than in any other social economic status. The world was a mess and it was into such a world that Jesus was born.
Our world today is a mess, too, isn’t it? I mean the whole world is a mess. Forest fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters seem to be a daily occurrence. War, terrorism, and international incidence seem to be a daily occurrence. No nation, city, or town seems to be sheltered from neighborhood violence, overcrowdedness, and poverty. And not only is the world around us a mess, but in our personal lives many of us are facing messy lives, as well. Whether it be health issues, loss of jobs/careers, homelessness, personal poverty, debt, family squabbles, hunger…, we realize that our lives are filled with messiness. And, it is into such a world that God has promised to send His Son, Jesus.
And you know what, what I have come to realize this holiday season is that, yes, this world is a mess, but when God looks at it, I don’t think God sees only the bad and ugliness of this mess. No, God also sees the beautiful mess that we are. And it is onto our messiness that Jesus comes and says, I am here, do not be afraid.
If you are a parent you probably get what I mean. You know, when my kids were growing up, their bedrooms were always a mess. I don’t just mean a little bit; their rooms had clothes on the floor, their beds were never made, their dresser and desk were always covered with stuff, and as hard as Jill and I tried, they just couldn’t seem to keep their rooms clean. We would have to close the doors knowing their rooms were a mess. Today, they are grown with homes and beginning families of their own, and you know what, sometimes I miss that mess, because as much as I hate to admit it, they were beautiful messes and it was in those messes that God came to my kids and said, do not be afraid, I am with you. Last week I challenged many of you here to send me pictures of your beautiful messes and you did awesome. Take a look! (show video)
That is our beautiful mess and the words to the song are words I can hear Jesus saying to us tonight,
beautiful mess, what a beautiful mess I'm in
Spending all my time with you
There's nothing that I'd rather do
What a sweet addiction that I'm caught up in
I can't get enough
Or stop this hunger for your love
What a beautiful mess, what a beautiful mess I'm in
Tonight, the message of God coming into our mess as an infant is told around the world. Tonight we hear the story of God sending His “choir of angels” to lowly, dirty, messy shepherds and they announce that it is time to stop being afraid. God announces to that that it is time to know that into this mess I come, and come to be your savior.
Christmas is that time when we are reminded that God is addicted to us and God wants us to know that no matter how messy our lives get, God is here, Immanuel, and God will not leave. God loves us so much He wants to spend all his time with us. There's nothing that He’d rather do. God is addicted to us and God can’t get enough of us and He wants us to know this night that He will never stop seeking our love, because we are God’s beautiful mess, and nothing can keep Him from loving us, not even our messy lives.
Merry Christmas! Amen