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The Messiness of Christmas

The tidy images we have of Christmas are never close to reality, says Alix Riley, MDiv student and admissions counselor at Fuller California Coast. But messiness is actually the point.

Lumpkin - restaurant table

Photo by Matt Lumpkin (MDiv ’11)

They’re always so tidy, the images of Christmas. Joyous, well-behaved children opening the exact gifts that danced alongside visions of sugarplums. Parents serving a meal worthy of Bon Appetit to a houseful of guests worthy of InStyle. This is how we prefer to see ourselves. But I confess that at my house, we’ve had our share of Christmas images that would be better suited to the outtakes reel, or even the “delete” button.

Christmas can be a messy business. Hearts ache, nerves fray, and tempers flare. Losses resurface and wounds re-open. We cry out (or at least think), “It’s not supposed to be like this.” And still, in the midst of the mess, Jesus arrives. He doesn’t care if the teenagers are wearing rumpled T-shirts, the gravy is cold, and the wine is not yet chilled. Jesus enters the room, looks right past our dried-out fir tree with too many ornaments on one side, and declares joyfully, without a moment’s hesitation, “You belong to me.”

During Advent, we need a reminder that messiness is actually the point. Messiness made the incarnation necessary. Only Jesus could restore us to our rightful image—the image of God, which we twisted and disfigured through our persistent refusal to love God and to love others as we should. And so, amid the messiness, the Word became flesh and, as Eugene Peterson puts it, moved into the neighborhood. Fully human and fully God, Jesus walked among us, revealing God’s unfailing love through a life of healing the sick, caring for the poor, and welcoming the sinner. Through his miraculous birth, unjust death and triumphant resurrection, he has begun to clean up the mess that we cannot make tidy on our own.