I'm thinking today about how easy it is to sanitize the Christmas story. We like the warm glow of a traditional manger scene, with Mary looking rosy cheeked, Joseph proudly standing behind her, the shepherds kneeling with fluffy perfectly white sheep, farm animals quietly standing guard. It's cozy and clean and strangely inviting. It's a "silent night." But it's hardly realistic.
I was struck by the crazy dynamics at play this week as I read through the accounts in Matthew and Luke of the events surrounding Jesus' birth. Mary is pregnant out of wedlock, to an unknown father. Joseph, since he's kind, doesn't demand to have her stoned for adultery (which most think would have been within his rights), and instead plans to quietly divorce her. He's only stopped by angelic intervention. And this is only the beginning.
There's a census demanded by a foreign ruling empire. There's the pain and mess and labor of childbirth - in a home that's not their own. There's the thick smell of animals and the wildness of their poor guardians. There's a murderous king on a killing rampage.
When I think of it, it's a perfectly human scene. It's humanity in its simple, humble form, humanity in its struggle. This is the scene of Christ's birth. And it's perfectly fitting.
When I think only of the picturesque Nativity, it feels remote. It feels too perfect for my own experience. It feels too sheeny in its glow to reach to the pain of my world.
But when I think of Mary, laboring to birth the Creator of the world, smiling in sweet exhaustion when He's first placed in her arms. When I think of Joseph, nervous and pacing in anticipation of the birth of the Savior. When I think of the shepherds, poor and "unclean" being invited to see a child in a place and position not so far removed from their own. When I think of the Christ child's fragile, fresh skin... I see a Savior who came to us in our true human state - in the mess and the miracle that is our life. And I find great comfort there.
I'd encourage you to sit down this weekend and read the story of Christ's birth. Shake off the sanitized versions you've seen portrayed - and see the real color and humanity of the story. See the One who humbled Himself to become like us, to meet us as we are. And rejoice.