I love nativity scenes! It thrills me every Christmas season to see the many different versions on display. From rustic outdoor sets to ornate glass displays, each puts its own unique spin on the Christmas story. They’re all different in presentation, but all the same in the fact that they are beautiful and elegant representations of the birth of our Lord.
As I’ve enjoyed the many different nativity themed decorations this year, I’ve found myself drawn to what is missing. In fact, it’s the same thing that is missing in most of our renditions of the Christmas story. It’s the mess. The ugliness. The chaos. Nativity scenes never depict the reality of a messy stable, a newborn baby, a young lady worn out from travel and giving birth.
In fact, the messiness of the story extends beyond the physical circumstances. Mary and Joseph’s lives were turned upside down. Though they knew the divine origins of her baby, many would assume her guilty of adultery. Their choice to obey God would cost them dearly in human terms. And it would cost others, too, like the families of the babies Herod slaughtered. Then there’s the purpose of this special birth – death. Jesus was born to die; and not just any death, but the most awful and torturous death the world had concocted to that point in history.
Our Christmas decorations, plays and festivities reflect our natural tendency to sanitize everything so that it seems nicer and more attractive. But the Christmas story isn’t beautiful because it is clean and perfect. No, it is beautiful because it is the pinnacle of God’s working in the ugliness of life. When you stop to think about it, that’s the heart of the gospel.
While the gospel is certainly good news of great joy to all men, it is necessitated by our greatest problem – God is Holy and I am not! I am sinful and my sin condemns me to hell and death. Worse, I can do nothing about it. It is only contrasted to this reality that the gospel is truly good news. We must realize that the full, genuine message of the gospel is messy and ugly before it is beautiful and joyous. It is slavery to sin before it is freedom. It is God’s wrath before God’s mercy. It is war with God before it is peace on earth. The gospel is about hope in the midst of hopelessness and salvation in the midst of helplessness. Christmas reminds us that there is beauty and hope in the midst of despair and hopelessness if we only trust in Jesus.
The ugliness of life doesn’t diminish the story of Christmas or the Gospel, but serves to enhance the beauty of the free gift that God has given us. This year, let the beauty and wonder of Christmas remind you of the beauty and wonder of the gospel message – Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. God came into our mess! He entered into the ugliness and darkness and He is our rescuer.
photo by Johann Jaritz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons