I remember the first time I prepared the Thanksgiving turkey. I took the uncooked bird, cut the plastic bag open and the juices gushed all over the kitchen counter. @#*$%! I thought. I was not prepared for such a mess! I reached inside the turkey cavity and pulled out the heart, liver, kidneys and whatever other organs remained. It was gross. Fortunately, I have a strong constitution and did not lose my nerve. I pressed on, cautiously preparing our lovely turkey. And when you cover anything liberally in bacon, it’s gonna turn out just fine. Something I only saw as a finished product on the neatly set Thanksgiving table was now transformed into something else entirely. I saw behind the veil; preparing to cook an animal is a messy process. The packaging in the grocery stores is really misleading!
For weeks the Nativity scenes have been set up and arranged. But they tend to numb me to the stunning reality of the untidiness of the Incarnation. God entered the world not on a sanitized throne but covered in the grime and bodily fluid of a crude birth in a barn. And that’s how God comes. He comes in the darkness of an ordinary night, in an ordinary town. He comes through the birth canal screaming and covered in afterbirth. A far cry from our well ordered Nativity scenes!
I liken the Christian journey to a birth. There’s lots of pain and groaning and sweat and tears. There’s the pushing and pleading, the desperate hope of finding release. There’s blood on the floor and a living, breathing creature lifted up, covered in body fluids, screaming at the trauma of it all. Christ’s Incarnation is surprising when we see God’s willingness to mix with the dirt and grime and blood of this world.
That’s often how life is: messy and chaotic. But that’s how life is birthed. We grow most often through pain and difficulty, through struggle and adversity. And so we have the Christmas story — God become flesh, taking on humanity. Instead of inducing Hallmark warm fuzzy feelings of sentimental holiday memories around Grandma’s kitchen table, the Bible abruptly plops the mystery of the universe right before our eyes. The Incarnation is nothing short of a mystery. It is not domesticated by sentimentality. It is raw and unlovely.
We tend to miss the Good News of Christ’s coming as a vulnerable baby. We live in such a way that God feels less like a person and more of a legend. We lose the energy to fight those popular evangelical impulses - that life ought to work, that the messiness is a sign something is wrong that I must fix. Advent is the smelling salts meant to awaken us from the delusion that our lives are manageable. It’s a calling to wake up and look toward the hills from where our help really comes. It’s a time to search the sky for the star meant to take us to the newborn King. He comes … and he comes in the mess, the unclean, the grit. May that speak incredible freedom to your soul this Advent.