This past week was the worst.
It was the hardest week for me since we've moved. The weather never got above zero. Negative temps meant the kids were never allowed outside at school. They were antsy and grouchy. My husband slid twice through red lights, unable to brake on the ice. The chill took my breath away and made me cough. I was sure my nose and lips would drop off, they were in such pain, even just walking from the car to the school doors at pick up. Our dog was sick and I didn't know what to do. The washing machine flooded the laundry room because the pipes froze. And everyone was stressed. Everyone was having a bad time of it. I never complained, though I don't think I even had time to, because it took all my effort to manage my own self, the warmth of the house, and that of the kids.
We couldn't get a tree because we couldn't be outside. We didn't go to the city Christmas celebration on Main Street (since it was -10). We all argued and managed and worked to keep our heads above water.
And all the while, I grappled with the fact that it is Christmas and I don't want it to look this way.
I didn't panic or cry about all these things that weren't happening. I just stared at them. I stared at the bathrooms that need cleaning, the heaps of laundry waiting for warmer weather, the messy relationships in my home, the Thanksgiving decor on every surface, the sick dog, and accepted it all with a small pit in my stomach.
On Saturday, when I finally started to decorate, I pulled out the pieces of my favorite, vintage nativity set. My daughter pointed out that Joseph's head was broken off and missing. Of course it was. I rummaged through the white fabric in which I'd wrapped the set, and out his painted little head rolled. Despite the decapitated Joseph, my girl placed all the pieces in their spots under the mossy wooden crèche. She stood back to assess her work and announced it looked more like a Halloween display than a Christmas one.
Yesterday I heard this verse differently, where the angels intercept the shepherds in the middle of the night to tell them the good news: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12) Goodness, we are so familiar with these verses that we roll right past them. But it jumped out at me yesterday; the shepherds were not only terrified, as the Bible says, but they must have looked at each other like, "Wait. What?? The savior we've been waiting for is (as other translations say) wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough?" It is a ridiculous message. They must have been absolutely shocked, and then confused.
Read what one commentary from www.biblehub.com says about verse 12:
"The sign was to consist, it seems, solely in the overpowering contrast between the things just said of Him and the lowly condition in which they would find Him—Him whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, "ye shall find a Babe"; whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, "wrapt in swaddling bands"; the "Saviour, Christ the Lord," lying in a manger! Thus early were these amazing contrasts, which are His chosen style..."
Amazing contrasts are His chosen style. Wow. Fanciness and neatly checked off lists and cozy comforts were never our Lord's chosen style. He came messy. Perfectly messy.
Now that is something I can do. Actually, it's already just taking place without my intervention. Isn't that humorous? Perfectly messy just naturally occurs in my life, and I get all ruffled over it. But it was our Lord's choice. It didn't just happen that there was no room in the inn. It wasn't an accident that super pregnant Mary had to be riding a donkey while starting to go into labor. All the crazy, ridiculous circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus were His first choice.
I don't quite know how to get there, myself. How to make 'perfectly messy' MY first choice. How to let go of wanting a Pinterest-worthy mantle and Rockwellian chats over hot cocoa. But I think it starts with my focus. Am I looking around my house and at my lists, or am I looking at Jesus? Am I striving to create something completely different and distanced from the first real Christmas, or am I allowing the messiness of that night in Bethlehem to be a model for my celebrating?
I am certain those smelly animals, the dirty strips of cloth, the humble teenagers, the crying baby, and the feeding trough lined with hay would have never made it into a magazine. People probably scoffed at them, in fact. A scene would have been caused. Reporters would have made a circus attraction out of them. And so many people in town for the census surely missed the wonder and the beauty that took place at the greatest event in history thus far.
I am resolving to not miss the beauty, to embrace the messy, and to worship the Lord who loves amazing contrasts.
Looking deeper, inside, I'm even messier than my holiday season has been, which is why Christmas even happened in the first place. God came down to trade my mess for His perfect. It's the best and craziest contrast of all.
Perfectly messy is His first choice. I am His first choice. You are His first choice. Right where we are.
I'm going to focus on that.