In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
Genesis 1:1-2 NLT
Marked by confusion and disorder, extreme unpleasantness, and trying circumstances, messy is the opposite of what we strive for in life, much less at Christmas.
Martha Stewart, Chip and Joanna, and other high profile homemakers tell us the holiday season should be beautifully ordered, well thought out, with hand-decorated coordinated wrappings on all the gifts under the tree.
In our best attempts to plan, organize, and order up the perfect Christmas, preparations make a mess. The unpacking of ornaments and holiday decorations, last year’s string of lights refusing to shine, rearranging to make room for a tree, it all leaves disorder in its wake.
Striving to please the ones with whom we gather. Baking cookies and making sure everyone has a favorite dish on the table leaves loads of dirty dishes. But still, the gathering of dysfunctional families, both blended and not, is just messy. And most often, all we accomplish is calling forth our inner Grinch.
Christmas is fraught with messes, despite what the pros insinuate. Just look back on the very first one, swept up in a whole lot of messy!
The Nativity story of Jesus begins with messy relationships.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child…
Matthew 1:18 ESV
The joy of an upcoming wedding swept away by an unexpected pregnancy.
…she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
Matthew 1:18-19 ESV
Holy Spirit or not, it wasn’t Joseph’s baby, and he knew it! Whether he wanted to protect her from disgrace or not, shame was written all over this fiasco.
The betrothal period for the Jews at the time of Jesus’s birth entailed a legally binding contract. To break the engagement was the same process as divorcing a wife. Messy! I mean, really, when was the last time you heard of a quiet divorce.
Can you imagine the mess stirred up in Mary’s relationships by this unexpected Babe? Not just with her fiancé, but her parents? neighbors? friends?
Even after Joseph accepts the news of the Holy Spirit as the One responsible for this pregnancy, takes Mary as his wife, what sort of gossip do you think was murmured throughout town? What business did he lose? Did they dare show their faces at synagogue each Sabbath?
Then the birth itself.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7 ESV
Birth is messy enough at its best, but Jesus was born in a barn. The groan of labor pains mixed with the lowing of cows and the braying of an ass. Mary’s water breaking, the blood from delivery running amidst animal excrement contributed to the untidy scene.
Messing things up.
But life has been messy since the Fall in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve swept the whole world up into the chaos of sin and rebellion. They fell for the lies of a serpent rather than trusting the One who created and loves.
We do the same thing. Repeat the same story over and over. We, I, you, make everything something it was never supposed to be simply because we, I, you, fail to trust Him and do things His way.
We think we know better. But we don’t.
We try to tidy up our lives and our messes (or at least cover them up), pursuing perfection, happiness, peace in the next best thing the world offers.
The problem is — no matter what we pursue or how hard we try — we only cause more distress, leave more messes in our wake.
We complain about the disarray — emotional, spiritual, relational, physical, mental — but God allows it. He is purposeful with it.
Messy alerts us to our need to be saved. The bigger the mess, the more we see our desperate need for a Savior. Someone to clean up the messes we can’t.
Owning the messy.
Dealing with messy requires we first take responsibility for the distressing disorder in the world — the place we find ourselves living.
But NOT in the pull-up-your-boot-straps and clean it up yourself kind of responsibility. We must own it! You, me, us, we are the ones who messed up what was once pristine.
Then we must see, the more we try to clean up and reorder the chaos, the worse things get. We have to stop deluding ourselves with self-help. We must confess our need for a Savior.
It’s a messy world because we didn’t trust the Good Creator — still don’t. We don’t trust Him as good or His ability to restore what we messed up.
Messy lives make for messy-living. Like preparations for Christmas, things often become more of a mess before they get better.
Jesus’s life was messy because of the chaos and confusion we brought into the world. He endured persecution for hanging out with people who lived disordered lives: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and the like.
The proper perfect religious leaders didn’t understand why He would entertain the grubby masses. But, they were blind to their socially acceptable messiness, what lay hidden in their hearts in the shadows of pride and arrogance. Hearts too small to love but not judge. These were the ones who pursued Jesus with a vengeance.
Jesus’s life began messy, with the flow of water and blood, just like all our lives do. But His ended the same — messy — crucified on a cross, alongside two thieves.
Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath… the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.
John 19:31-34 ESV
In preparation for Sabbath, the Jews wanted nothing messy hanging around. So they asked the executioners to break the legs of the ones crucified.
You see, crucifixion is a slow, excruciating death that can take days. Hanging from hands and feet nailed to a cross ultimately ends in suffocation.
Exhaustion overcomes the crucified, and they can no longer lift themselves on their nail-pierced feet to fill their lungs with air. Asphyxiation takes their lives. To break the legs was to hurry death along, eliminating the ability to breathe.
But Jesus had already finished His time on the cross, claimed it Himself, committed His Spirit to His Father.
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” …When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:28, 30 ESV
Oh, Jesus. He came down to get messy with us, take our dirt on Himself because we can’t do one thing on our own to get rid of it!
He came to lead us to the perfect life we long for and pursue but never seem to achieve.
Only He provides the means for us to overcome the mess we made.
Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.
1John 5:5-6 ESV
They are all the consequences of our messing up the world by doing things our way. Christmas promises the path out of messy.
Amid all the mess of Christmas and everyday life, there is a beacon of hope: The Babe swaddled in the fodder of a feed trough who lived out a messy life with our painful predicament on His heart.
He’s the One to call on when you realize the messy world has swept you up into something you can’t fix.
Praise Him for embracing the messy, identifying with the dirty and unclean, so we, you, I, can receive the peace-full place of tidy, neat, pristine.
Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners… and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:23-24 The Message
On a scale of 1 to 10, how messy is your life? Ten being the very messiest.
What’s the most challenging mess you face? Is it spiritual? physical? emotional? mental? relational?
When you think about dealing with messy what is your first response? clean it up yourself? get help? ignore it and hope it will go away? deny there is any problem at all?
Ask God to show you the messy reality you are swept up in whether you see it or not. Then ask Him to guide you in accepting responsibility and showing you the way out.
He is faithful and He will do it.