Jesus is many things to many people, but to John he was Light and Life. The apostle must have remembered where Jesus was standing and what he sounded like when he referred to himself by those words. Although nothing is written in his book, there is a little inkling of the birth to be found in John’s Gospel after all. It is wrapped up in one short sentence, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. This verse really should be read before Matthew and Luke. It prepares us to receive the full version of the story. The Light that is Jesus shines in, around, through, behind, beneath, beyond the darkness of the manger, the stable, the darkness of the world, the darkness of buried in our own hearts. Do we really understand it any more than the shepherds or the wise men did. Who can grasp the idea of Light and Life being contained in a body?
If you were a shepherd 2,000 years ago and were outside watching the sheep one night when an angel showed up with a message from God, well…what would you do? Once they got over the shock They probably thought, Oh, sheesh! What did we do now??? They had been told that God did not like people , sinners, who definitely are not all cleaned up, so they might have assumed the angel was there to tell them God was mad at them — or worse. Maybe God had finally reached his limit with all the crap in the world and was ready to do something about it — starting with them! But instead the angel began with these words: “Fear not.” It’s a familiar refrain, angels, who seemingly always having to preface their conversations with people this way. Then he told them how to find the long awaited Messiah:
He will be wrapped in rags, lying in a feed trough, surrounded by animals — kind of like one of your shepherd kids would be. In other words, here’s how you will know the Messiah when you see him: You will find him in the middle of a big stinkin' mess!
The whole reason this is Good News — to the shepherds that night and to us right now — is that we really are all messy people. Every night, well dressed and manicured people appear on television and tell us how the world got a little messier today. We manage to mess up every single area of life: relationships, finances, work, family, the environment, the Church (especially there), our conscience, our habits ... the list can go on and on. In fact there’s not a single place we haven't managed to mangle ... And we can't seem to fix any of it!
So the angel says, “Here’s the Good News: God is not afraid of your mess.”
Say what??? Our God doesn't seem to care how messy our life is. It couldn't be any messier than where He chose to come to earth. He was born in a mess — wrapped in rags, laid in a manger — and he died in a mess! And in between his first day and his last day, he mostly hung out with messy people, seeming even to prefer them!
We make Christmas really pretty, with red velvet bows and evergreen branches and all that. But the real story of Christmas proves that you do not have to clean up for him. Cleanliness, it turns out, is far from godliness. If anything, it’s in the middle of our messiness that God shows up! God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home.