The little church that I pastor just passed it’s 6 month anniversary. We are a church b0rn out of a painful labor that has relaxed into the joy of new life. There are abundant signs that God is blessing our experiment – new guests, growing resources, fifteen small group Bible studies, and a general ethos that fluctuates between an appropriately modest joy and just outright, childish fun.
Now something happening – the thing that usually happens to 6 month olds. We’re getting our teeth. We’re starting to grow into a thing that’s going to be able to influence the world, shape things, have a voice. The evidence – there are 18 baptisms coming to Real Life between now and Easter. This means that people are making life-changing decisions to follow Jesus, from young kids to grown ups. We’re seeing people change direction in a life-changing way. This is what growing churches are supposed to do.
Most churches in America go months, or even years, without baptisms. The passion to reach lost people for Jesus passed long ago, and they’ve settled into routines that keep the already converted happy. You would think a clear reading of the life of Jesus would cure this, but they keep reading it and nothing changes.
A church should look like a ship that’s just weathered a storm at sea – the entire crew is tired, everyone’s telling the story of how it happened, and the floor is soaking wet. Join us in setting sail at Real Life…we’re gaining steam.
We like to wish each other a merry Christmas. If we wanted to be real with each other, we would probably wish one another a messy Christmas, because to do so is more true to the biblical narrative and more true to the state of our lives. Merry Christmess. It would relieve the recipient of the burden of meeting the Norman Rockwell expectations for family life in this season, achieving the proper level of Hallmark sentimentality, and imitating the magazine cover home decor. Most of us would rather undo the top button of our jeans and watch football with the curtains closed.
The Christmas holiday is messy; let’s be honest.
The manger scenes on our front lawns are dishonest. The wise men, who have just concluded an international journey on foot, are well-pressed and do not need a shower. The shepherds, who are day-laborers, whom Aristotle referred to as the “most lazy” of all laborers, have the well-groomed gaiety of a barbershop quartet about to break out in song. The baby, who was just born in a windy barn without medical assistance, well, “no crying he makes.” And Mary, who was not long ago threatened with divorce in light of premarital pregnancy, and Joseph, who finds himself in a generally unwanted arranged marriage, have on their faces the serene tranquility of a Buddha statue I saw in my neighbor’s garden.
Meanwhile, the houses behind our manger scenes are full of people who, by all accounts, are completely unworthy to approach such an immaculate gathering.
Christmas is messy. The first one was messy, and the meaning behind it is messy. God steps down into the mud and filth of the earth to join the species that had staged a rebellion against the Creator in the hopes of winning some converts back to the original side where, outrageously, they will be welcomed to return. Christmas isn’t about a neat and tidy self-presentation. It’s about being loved by the God who knows our mess so well that he joined it.
What if, rather than painting on our faces the rouge of artificial merriness, we settle for the messiness? What if we accept one another’s messiness with grace? Christmas is not a time for appearances, it is a time for the authentic embrace of true humanity. More than any other time, this season, we ought to love and accept those whose lives are a mess.