he other day I was chatting with a friend who was telling me about one of her closest friend’s recent heartache. ..not in a gossipy way, but in a “I’m really concerned about my friend” kind of a way. The friend is in a really messy place…not an uncommon situation, but messy nonetheless. With a heavy, hurting heart, I simply commented, “That’s messy. And it’s also really scary.”
Life is messy, isn’t it? And often, our messes scare us; our situations may feel beyond our control or simply out of control. Often when the end is in not in sight, we worry about the effect the mess is going to have on our kids or loved ones, or even our very lives. We get scared. For the past few years our family has been walking through the messiness of grief, and at times the grief has been downright ugly. We’re coming through it now, and my goodness it feels good to be able to see clearly and breathe deeply again. For awhile anyway….there’s obviously another mess around a bend up ahead that we can’t see yet. It’ll come though. It’s guaranteed.
The messes of life come in an endless variety of sizes and force. Some we create ourselves and others happen upon us for reasons completely outside of our control. Grief is messy. Illness is messy. Conflict is messy. Relationships are messy. Parenting is messy. Marriage is messy. Financial strain is messy. And for many of us, the Christmas season, in addition to all its inherent joy and wonder, is also the time when our messes feel the messiest. Grief is more painful; financial strain more stressful; illness more bitter; loneliness deeper; strained relationships more apparent.
Yet, as we look toward Christmas, my heart has been gripped by the with-us-ness of God. God Himself entering into the mess of human life. This reality is absolutely stop-you-in-your-tracks staggering when you take a few moments to really ponder it. God. The creator of the universe. King above all kings. Ancient of Days. The One who had dwelt for all of eternity in the splendor of Heaven…streets of pure gold and walls made from perfectly crystal clear gems...this God entered into the mess of human life. This is the wonder of Emmanuel.
This is why my heart pounds when I sing the words “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” Seriously!? God with us?? With us here? Who am I that I should even have permission or boldness to utter a plea to the King of the Universe to please come and dwell with me in the midst of this messy life?
And yet, He wants to. The babe in the manger proves to us that God WANTS and CHOOSES to be our Emmanuel - God with us – even in the messiest messes of our lives. He confined himself to the limitations of a fully human body, with its fully fallen state of aches and pains and malfunctions. And not only that, but he was literally born into a mess. A stable of barn animals. Manure. Hay. Barn smells. Human labor and delivery. Blood. A screaming teenage girl and a scared young man. Animals that likely were making all sorts of sounds due to the unexpected disruption of sleep happening in their barn. A mess. A scary, holy, sacred mess.
And it didn’t get better anytime quickly. We love to sing about the magi coming to worship him with expensive gifts fit only for a King and to wonder at the mystery of the stunning star God placed in the sky – and well we should….these are magnificent pieces of truth…yet we often neglect to remember the mess the quickly ensued. A hateful king hell-bent on murdering the newborn Messiah. Genocide of baby boys. A young newly married couple on the run for their lives with the God-babe. Becoming refugees in Egpyt…fleeing for safety to the exact country their ancestors had fled out of for freedom a couple thousand years prior. A mess.
And then His years of ministry: religious leaders seeking to kill him; not having a place to rest his head; homelessness, hunger and betrayal; not even having the support or trust of his own brothers; being subjected to the temptations known to all mankind. A mess.
And then the cross. Agony. Mocking. Spitting. Thorns. A shredded back. Nails. Loneliness. Forsakenness. Darkness. The full weight of sin. The wrath of God on His shoulders. Blood. Excruciating pain. A mess. A scary, sacred, holy mess.
But then, the empty tomb. His absolute assurance that though we may not see the end of our messes, there WILL BE an end to our messes. The mess of human life – the sorrow, pain, confusion – has been and will be defeated. We have a God who comes into our messy ashes and brings out of it the beauty of victory.
Friend, Jesus knows what it is to live in chaos. He knows. He has been through messes far beyond yours and mine. The God of the universe willingly chose to subject himself to the worst messes of humanity so that he could bring us victory over them. So that He could restore us to our Father. So that in the midst of our messes today, we could know the with-us-ness of God. He so wants to be with us that he joins us in our uttermost messes. This is why the writer of Hebrews assured us that we can come confidently to the throne of grace, because we have a High King who sympathizes and understands in our very weakest moments (Hebrews 4:15-16). He’s been there. He gets it.
A favorite verse of mine is Genesis 39:21. Although somewhat obscure, it is mind-blowing: “But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison.” Wait a minute. Hold the phone. WHAT??? Joseph went to prison innocent…but still…the Lord was with him?? The Lord went to prison??? He entered the messiest time of Joseph’s life??? Yes. Emmanuel. That’s what He does. He enters our messes.
He was with Hagar in the desert wilderness.
He was with Joseph in prison.
He was with Jeremiah in the dungeon.
He was with Elijah in the cave.
He was with Elisha during the fierce battle with the large enemy army.
He was with Ruth in the barley field.
He was with Esther during her marriage to a hateful king.
He was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.
He was with Daniel in the Lion’s den.
He was with Gideon in the wine press.
He was with Mary Magdalene when she still had seven demons in her.
He was with Paul on the Damascus Road, in the shipwrecks, and while he sat in prison with shackles.
He was with David as he ran for his life and hid in caves.
He was with Joshua at the flooding Jordan River.
He was with Moses in the wilderness.
He was with the Israelites as the stared at the Red Sea and heard the enemy seizing them from behind.
Friend, the with-us-ness of God in the midst of life’s messiest messes is downright staggering. Be staggered this Christmas. In the middle of whatever mess you might be in or have just come through, rather than pretending that everything is “fine,” be stunned that the God of the Universe joins you in the un-fine-ness of life. Indeed, this is exactly what Christmas is all about.
O come, O come, Emmanuel. Things are a bit messy, but please come anyway.