One of the things I really dislike about living in Middle Tennessee is the end of daylight saving time. I’m so close to the eastern time zone that I could almost reach out and touch it, yet I’m still forced to live an hour behind. That, my dear friends, means that it gets dark at 4:30pm. I literally feel your heart ache for me as you read this. I’m fully aware that this is a first world problem and I should just grow up and get over it, but when I walk to my car every evening at 5ish in pitch black darkness I die a little inside. The only thing that makes this tolerable right now is Christmas lights. Every evening, I pass house after house after house full of lights- some nice and elegant – some tacky – some that have been up since last year – but all of them put a little smile on my face and warm my winter-hating heart.
There is one house in particular that caught my eye last week. The house was lit with white lights strung from the porch down to a nativity scene. There were little plastic figures of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, and an angel gathered neatly around a little manger holding baby Jesus. As I passed this house, I began to think: Is that what really happened? Did everyone gather around the baby in perfect form, all in a neat little row? I’m not buying it.
Now the bible does not give a full play-by-play of the birth of Jesus but the books of Matthew and Luke provide us with a little sneak peak. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but became pregnant – oops! Well, as it turns out she became pregnant through the Holy Spirit and the little baby she was carrying was the Son of God. Now, I’m sure that no one believed that story and neither did Joseph because Matthew tells us that he was planning to quietly divorce her. I know that I just said they were “pledged” to be married but then Joseph was going to divorce her? Well, this was before the Bachelor, so if you said you were gonna marry someone, you better be serious because in those days you couldn’t just give the ring back and provide an interview to People magazine – it required divorce. Anyway, an angel appeared to Joseph and smoothed things over assuring him that Mary was telling the truth. There they were – a young Jewish couple, with an unplanned pregnancy, who had just encountered angels, and most likely overwhelmed with their newly given task of raising the Son of God – no pressure.
Intrigued? I’ll continue. While pregnant, Mary had to travel with Joseph to Bethlehem for a census. According to the footnotes in my bible, this was a least a three day trip. Now, I am pretty sure that they didn’t travel in any luxury capacity – so a three day pregnant trip, most likely on the back of a camel or a donkey – no thanks! We also know that while she was there, in Bethlehem, she went into labor. The details of this blessed event are somewhat short and sweet, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7). Most nativity scenes appear to take place in a barn or a stable. Honestly I’m not really sure, but since they were apparently looking for an inn, the setting for the birth of the little baby Jesus was not ideal. I mean, she was giving birth to the Son of God in a makeshift room with a manger as a bed for her newborn that was going to save the world. I’m gonna go out on a limb here-I’m guessing Mary was not as put together as she appears in those little plastic figures.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure the birth of Christ was nothing short of amazing, but please don’t be deceived – it was still a birth. I’ve had two children in the very controlled setting of an operating room, and even with the latest and greatest medical equipment and knowledge literally at my fingertips, I was overwhelmed. Can you imagine what Mary was feeling? Not to mention the awkward presence of the shepherds, the wise men who just showed up out of nowhere. But, I also imagine if an angel has appeared to you and you became pregnant by the Holy Spirit – at this point, a few strangers are no big deal. And if all of this is not enough, King Herod wanted to kill the little baby King. So, I’m sure as they were living as refugees in Egypt, the promise of a savior seemed out of reach.
Have you been there? In a messy situation that was completely off course? Have you ever planned for something and things are not turning out the way you planned? This reason right here is why I love the Christmas story. Christ was born into a messy situation and his parents were literally hanging on by a promise. The fact that this is how our Savior was born proves that He’s not scared, embarrassed or ashamed of my mess. He’s familiar with messy – He can handle it. And, when I read the scriptures about Mary and Joseph I see a familiar theme – in the middle of the mess, they continued to believe.
They believed when everyone thought they were crazy. They believed when there was no room in the inn. They believed when they fled to Egypt. They believed when Jesus was a young boy in the temple. They believed when He turned water to wine, healed the sick, raised the dead, when He was wrongly accused, convicted and crucified on a cross. They believed through the mess.
Why? Because of a promise that was placed deep in their hearts. Luke tells us that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”. She stored them up, she “pondered” them, she held them close. And, although I don’t have proof of this, I imagine as she moved from one messy situation to another, she remembered the promise of a savior and her belief was renewed.
So wherever you find yourself, remember that God is present in your mess. Right there in the middle. He’s not a sideline coach or an innocent bystander. He chose to show up mid-mess, when the light was dim and the promise was almost out of reach. God became human to fulfill a promise to His people and save them from their sins.
Therefore, treasure up. Do you have a promise that was placed in your heart? Treasure up when life gets messy. Treasure up when the light is dim. Treasure up when the promise is almost out of reach and continue to believe. Treasure up and look around. God presents himself in the most unlikely places and fulfills His promises in the most unexpected messy ways – like a virgin birth with a baby King – so that you will know He showed up. So this Christmas, treasure up, my friends. Treasure up.