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God Breaks Into the Ordinary Messiness of Life…

December 18, 2014

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The Children of the Congregation are in the final preparations for their Christmas Play, “Sleepover at the Stable” and yesterday the stable was being constructed. Their practice was just prior to the Midweek Advent Prayer Service which we have been holding during the Wednesday’s in Advent. Yes, the last full week of Advent is pretty busy for First Presbyterian Church. And it all leads up to next Wednesday when we will celebrate the birth of Christ at our annual Christmas Eve service.

What struck me as the folks were finishing up the work on the stable and we were getting ready for the evening service was the deeper meaning of what was happening. As a worship leader, I do like to have everything in order for the worship setting and the service. As I lit the candle for the service and the music began to play, I realized something. Even though the sanctuary wasn’t in the perfect order that I would have liked it to be in, God was very present there.

Imagine if you will, the typical day for the owner of the house and stable where Jesus was born. According to the archaeological research done in an excellent article by Kenneth Bailey, we aren’t talking about a separate building from the house. The animals were “bunked” in the lower part of the house at night for warmth and protection. The family lived in the upper portion of the house. They were under the same roof as the animals, just in a separate space. This was the typical setup for the ordinary folks of that time. In a typical day, the animals would be brought in for the night, and the family would be settling in for the night as well. There would have been a routine and ritual as the family fed and cared for the animals and themselves.

However, this was not an ordinary time. Caesar had decreed that his “empire” should be registered/enrolled. This was for taxation purposes, of course, and you had to go to your ancestral home to register. You couldn’t go on-line or to the local courthouse and fill out the paperwork. You had to travel to your ancestral home, no matter how far away from it you may have lived or what condition you were in. The owners of the house and stable where Jesus was born lived in Bethlehem. As the City of David, there would have been a large mass of people descending upon Bethlehem for the census. And you didn’t have a choice of hotels like Holiday Inn Express or Comfort Suites or even Motel Six! When Joseph and Mary arrived, they would have looked for lodging with relatives. In the hospitality rules of that day, family would have been required to take them in if they had the space. Joseph finally found a relative with some space for his family to stay. Yes, it was with the animals, but it was a place to stay out of the elements.

This series of circumstances would have turned the household upside down. The orderly routine of bedding down animals and the family  was gone; instead, you had extra mouths to feed and people to bed down. And one of the people staying with you was ready to give birth! So, the orderliness of life was not so orderly the night that Jesus was born.

The stable under construction in the midst of the worship service reminded me of that. Yet despite the chaotic atmosphere in that house so long ago, God came down! God broke into the ordinary messiness of life in an amazing way. And the sanctuary in a bit of disarray reminded me of that. You know what? God broke into the messiness of that sanctuary and I felt that presence as we worshiped.

As I look at the picture above that Denise took after the service, I am reminded of that thought. We all have idealized pictures of what the manger scene looked like. Thanks to some beautiful artwork and sculpting through the years, there are a variety of scenes which come to mind. I think of the two nativity sets we have at our house. One is made in Uganda and crafted out of native wood. This is in stark contrast to some of the medieval and renaissance paintings and sculptures I have seen through the years. The other set was made in the Holy Land out of olive wood. While both reflecting the distinctive nature of the culture where they were made, both of these sets present a nice, orderly picture of the birth. And in elaborate worship services around the world, churches will do everything to ensure that the presentations in worship are “perfect”.

Yet, in the drive for the “perfect”, we can easily miss out on the transformation of the messy ordinary by God. Whether it is putting just one more finishing touch on a play or adding one more light display to make things even brighter (in our eyes), we need to be careful. God breaks into the ordinary messiness of life and transforms life and lives, one person at a time. The stable wasn’t the ideal place for a baby to be born. The manger wasn’t the ideal crib for a newborn baby to lay down and sleep. It wasn’t picture perfect! But it was perfect because God transformed that ordinary time and place into something extraordinary.

I personally am thankful that God breaks into the ordinary messiness of life. Why? Because my life has been far from perfect and there are plenty of messy moments in it. In the messiness of my junior year of college where I found myself flunking Intermediate Accounting and wondering what to do, God broke in. God called me to serve as a military Chaplain. In the personal messiness of my last assignment with the Air Force, God broke in. God recalled me to ministry, this time in the church. If I had waited for everything to be perfect before I sought God’s presence, I would have missed hearing the call of God in my own life.

God does break into the ordinary messiness of life! And God uses frail, fragile, sinful people like us to do kingdom work here on earth. Don’t let your desire to have everything picture perfect in your life keep you from seeking God in the ordinary messiness of life. Instead, be open to the Spirit’s movement in every aspect of your life. God will meet you there and you won’t be disappointed!

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One Comment
  1. Dianne permalink

    Love this so much!

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