The Life-Changing Magic of an Untidy Christmas

I’ve always had this vague notion of how Christmas should go — certain expectations that went unarticulated, but imposed themselves in wishful thinking and smallish discontentment.

This hazy idea was decidedly spiritual and definitely uber-holy. And while I may be fuzzy on the details of how it all would have worked out, I am certain that in this vague Christmas ideal, there would have been no chaos, no hurriedness, minimal shopping (only for books), very few messes (made only by the sweet play of children with nativity sets), and absolutely no vomit.

Undoubtedly, Christmas was to be about quiet reflection and uninterrupted contemplation in front of the Jesse tree with my Bible on my lap and coffee in hand. And maybe an Instagram post here or there to spread the brilliant meaning I had gleaned.

Surely those of us picking up steam in our sanctification should chuck all the extravagant Christmas madness out the window — overfull gatherings, tedious food preparations, chaotic tree trimming. Instead, we should get down to what’s really important: time alone with our thoughts. Clearly, the frosted snowman cookies are a distraction from what really matters.

Strip Christmas down to its essence, we think. Get rid of all the clutter. If tidying up is what magic is really made of, then an untidy Christmas is an affront to all that’s holy.

But perhaps a little clutter is just what we need to meet Jesus this Christmas.

A Gritty Spectacle

How eager we can be to make a mockery of the incarnation by longing to be the very opposite of incarnate: disembodied, lofty thoughts with no hands and no hearts to extend to those around us.

We can know one thing for sure about Jesus’s birth: it was a spectacle of gritty, messy, human-life drama. Every birth is. It was a spectacle involving real bodies, especially Mary’s. And despite my made-up ideals of fake holiness, Christmas still is that spectacle. Or at least it still should be. We still have the opportunity to be a messy but beautiful display of bodies laboring to bring Jesus to the world. Only, we are his body.

We have the opportunity to be his hands to our children and our neighbors and our friends in the present wrapping and the sharing of baked goods and the hugs. We have the opportunity to be his feet when we go to another family gathering or school concert or office party. We get to go in Jesus’s name, not as a grumbler, wishing that things were done differently or that the schedule wasn’t so full, but as good news to everyone we meet that Jesus has come into the world and he can be met in us.

Holy, Happy, Messy

All the stuff and material surrounding Christmas need not keep us from welcoming the incarnate Christ. They can remind us that Christ indeed was incarnate, earthly, human. He ate food, he celebrated with friends, he was surrounded by people, and he was present with them.

Perhaps the holiest and happiest thing we can do this Christmas is to be present with others like Jesus is with us. Actually be with the people you’re with. Listen to them, work alongside them, give yourself to them. And in so doing, show and tell everyone you come in contact with that Jesus really is Immanuel, God with us. He really did come into our mess, and he really is coming again.

What do you truly want this Christmas? Are you hoping for external peace for your circumstances, rather than internal peace for your disordered heart? Do you want him to make young children less needy? To make time-consuming food preparations quick and hassle-free? To make relational tensions with family disappear? To make the trek to relatives’ houses unhurried and never intruding on nap time?

Christ came primarily to rule in our hearts, not change our circumstances. Through his perfect life, death, and resurrection, Christ came to undo our small-minded resentments at our work and replace them with willing hands and thankful hearts. Christ came to change our ideas of simplistic, solo holiness by putting us in his family.

Christmas with the Prince

What has God entrusted to you this Christmas? Is it the privilege of hosting family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers? Then welcome people in Jesus’s name and show them how extravagant God’s love is. Is it traveling to someone else’s home? Then go willingly in Jesus’s name and be a blessing. Is it making Christmas memories for your immediate family? Then do good to them by celebrating Jesus in ways that minister to every age represented. Is it caring for sick people and missing out on everything you’d hoped for? Then do for the least of these as you would for Christ.

This Christmas, Jesus wants from us the same thing he always wants: death to our selfish desires and made-up notions of holiness and absolute loyalty and happiness in him. He’s bought our faithfulness so that we can make the food, set the table, and wrap the gifts in the strength he supplies. The Prince of Peace has come, and he can multiply our meager efforts a hundredfold — even, maybe especially, during the chaos of Christmas.