When we could gather, Christmas services were times to dress up, or how my Grandma sometimes described it, to get gussied up. Even now, in our very casual culture, Christmas Eve and Christmas morning services are seen as times to bring out our dressier attire.
Sanctuaries, auditoriums, living rooms, and dining rooms are decorated with trees adorned with beautiful ornaments and lights. Tables are laid with lovely table clothes, our finest dinnerware, and often candles. We serve one of the finest meals of the year and unwrap beautifully packaged gifts.
One of the most common descriptions of the Christmas season is that is beautiful, or as the famous Christmas song says, the most wonderful time of the year. Of all of our traditional holidays, it is the most gussied up.
Yet, that for which we celebrate was much less so. The Christmas Story begins with a teenager, who is engaged to be married, getting pregnant and the fiancé agreeing to break off the engagement because of this fact. When they arrive in Bethlehem, we are told there was no room for them in the inn where they had inquired about a place to stay. But why was there no room for a very pregnant woman? The culture was known for its hospitality. There was always room for one or two more. More likely, there was no room for people like HER! Their compassion went only far enough to allow her and her fiancé to stay on the property with the livestock.
In replicating the manger scene for holiday decorations and plays, it is almost impossible to get it right and, thus, we are left with a much prettier scene than it really was. We, by necessity, leave out the stench of poop, the dirty floor, the noise, the sweat, and soiled clothes. As a result, we are inclined to distort the reality. The night our Savior was born was anything but what we would consider a beautiful scene. Yet, our inclination is to gussy it up, just as we tend to gussy up other things in our lives. That’s our human tendency, isn’t it? To try to make things look better than they really are, or at least think they need to be.
In doing so, we miss the central truth of the Christmas Story: Jesus descended from the glory of Heaven into the human mess we created. He didn’t come all gussied up as would have seemed appropriate for a King. Rather, he came in the nakedness of any other baby, and into surroundings unthinkable for royalty. The implication for us is that we don’t need to gussy up our lives for his approval; we don’t need to pretend our lives are more beautiful than they are. Since his life on earth began in a mess, he is more than able to handle ours.
This is my greatest fear about how we view Christmas. Our desire is to make it beautiful, and maybe to believe our lives need to be, as well. The reality, however, is that neither is as beautiful as we would like to believe. Jesus’ birth was messy, and so are our lives.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the beauty of the Christmas season, but we would be wise not to let it overshadow its inherent messiness—both the conditions of that first Christmas night and the state of each of our own lives. He came into the mess in order to provide a way through it and, eventually, out of it. That is the true beauty of this season.
© Jim Musser 2020