When December comes around, most of us are already in the Christmas spirit. Our minds are focused on food, family and gifts. But when we stop with the shopping, planning and cooking, we might take the time to go to church. There, we get an opportunity to hear the Christmas story and think again about the first Christmas.
Most of us have images in our mind of that first Christmas. We picture a peaceful scene with Joseph and Mary serenely gazing down on the sleeping Baby in the manger. The sheep, donkeys and other animals are quietly sitting to the side with shepherds on bended knee and Magi presenting their gifts.
But the truth is, those images barely resemble the reality of that first Christmas. We have sanitized the story to the point that it’s just a myth or fairy tale. It’s become so familiar to us that we need to see it afresh.
What did the first Christmas really look like? It looked like a mess. Especially from Mary’s perspective. We have the benefit of two thousand years of hindsight, but Mary didn’t. When you strip away the idea that it all made sense and would turn out for the best, you begin to see things with Mary’s eyes. How much did she really understand?
I imagine Mary, like any girl, had dreams about how her life would play out—her betrothal, her wedding day, maybe nine months later, a baby shower. Instead what she encountered was scandal, gossip, and heartache. Angelic appearances, supernatural messages and to top it off, virgins don’t have babies! Can you imagine the scandal it would have created? That is why Joseph pondered putting her away. All It was all so irrational and hard to comprehend.
The carols we sing too often give an unrealistic picture of what was going on that night. Strip away the imaginary silence of that first night and what are left with? Reality! “Away in a manger . . . no crying He makes.” Really? The pain of childbirth is anything but silent and the baby… really?
The carols paint us a picture of a young girl with the look of joy and peace on her face. Seems realistic? They had traveled all that way without a reservation? And why could no one give up a guest room? She was giving birth to the future King! It was her first baby, so labour probably was hard, long, and exhausting. I can imagine post-birth Mary didn’t look like the woman we see on Christmas cards.
When you strip away the tidiness that first Christmas was probably pretty messy. I’ve seen pictures of the dirty hands and unwashed faces of shepherds. I’ve seen sheep and oxen in close quarters. Yes, it was messy, just like your life and my life. There is the mess we inherited as humans, there are messes we ourselves create, and there are messes that come and blindside us out of the blue.
Mary had probably imagined her life would be a certain way, and it wasn’t that way in real life. We all can relate to that. In reality, every plan has the potential to go off the rails. Mary and Joseph had to accept the changes they didn’t get a vote on. The same is often true for you and me. We have a plan . . . and whoosh it changes! In Proverbs 16:9, it says that we can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.
You might look at your Christmas, or your life for that matter, and it’s not going to plan. God’s plans are not making sense and it looks like nothing more than a mess. The good news is you don’t have to understand fully in order to obey Him. Like Mary, you can embrace the change, even through the pain, when you know God has a purpose. It isn’t what you think. It isn’t what you planned. But it is better than you imagine. Mary was planning a wedding, but God was planning to send a Savior into the world.
My encouragement this day is don’t let your plans make you miss God’s purpose. Mary didn’t. Her response to the angel was, “May it be to me as you have said.” I want us to look at messed-up plans as blessed interruptions. By faith, we can celebrate before we understand. We can offer a sacrifice of praise for the beauty that will come out of the messes in our lives.
There is a saying that goes, “the enemy of the best is the good.” For us today, we need to stop chasing our plan A and let God have His plan A. He can handle the mess. He walks with us through it. Christmas is about the Incarnation – Emmanuel, God with us. That is why Jesus came to this earth. Not so we could have parties, decorate our homes, and go shopping. He came to this earth to die on the cross to clean the mess of our sins, because He loves us.
For Mary, life didn’t look very pretty, at least not like what she hoped it would. And right now, your story may not look like what you hoped. But God invites us into His story. He wants to do something wonderful in you and for you, and it will be better than you can imagine.
Our responsibility is to put our faith and trust in Him because He alone holds the keys to life and death and in Him alone do we find eternal life…