Sunday, December 25, 2016


“If It Isn’t Messy, It Isn’t real”
Rev. J. Ronald Knott

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.
Luke 2:7

I have a saying, “If it isn’t messy, it isn’t real.” If you listen to the Christmas story closely, you will soon realize that it is one of the messiest stories you can imagine. This story isn’t cute or sweet. It was more like one disaster after another. There is the pregnant, unmarried Mary and her soon-to-be husband, Joseph. About the time this birth was to take place, Joseph and Mary were required to take an eighty-mile long donkey ride to register for the census - to the backwater village of Bethlehem. Away from home, Mary goes into labor with no place to give birth, but a barn and no place to lay her baby, but in an animal’s feed box. The only people to rejoice with this young couple were a bunch of smelly shepherds. Shepherds were despised by religious people of those days, not only because they were considered “low life,” but also because they were the “un-churched” of those days. From what we read, the birth of our Savior was a disaster on all fronts, one of the messiest stories imaginable.

If Mary and Joseph had been at home, all their Jewish neighbors and friends would have gathered outside the home to await the birth with musical instruments. When they would have announced, “It’s a boy!” they would have struck up the band. Luke, knowing that this was not just another Jewish boy’s birth, but the birth of God’s son, has a multitude of singing angels from heaven wrap their wings around this pathetic scene to welcome this long-awaited birth. The bottom line of this messy story, Jesus deliberately identified himself with the “little people,” “humble circumstances” and the messiness of this world.

Luke, who brings us the Christmas story that we are all familiar with, is a champion of the “underdog.” The heroes of his stories are mostly the “losers” and “marginal people” of society: women, children, foreigners, the sick, the unchurched and the poor. The Christmas story simply reflects his theology that Christ came for all people, including people the connected of this world never imagined and God’s love will not be restricted to the few, no matter what the church or state says.

When Jesus grew up, the statement that the circumstances of his birth made, was spelled out in detail by his preaching and actions. He “welcomed sinners and ate with them.” The lost sheep is sought out. The prodigal son was welcomed home. The good and bad alike are invited to his wedding feast. His workers all received a full days pay, no matter when they started working.

One of the best compliments I ever got as a pastor, was one I got one Christmas when I was pastoring the Cathedral Parish. A man told me that the congregation at the Cathedral reminded him of the “Island of Misfits Toys” from the “Rudolf, the Red-nosed Reindeer” Christmas special. The “Island of Misfits Toys” was, of course, that special island where broken toys could go to be repaired so that they, too, could be part of Christmas. As most of you know, we specialized in welcoming marginal and fallen-away Catholics back to the Church. I never felt more like a true pastor than I did in those days. I never felt that I was acting more like Jesus, living the message of Christmas, than I did in those days.

Even though the Christmas message is over 2,000 years old, it seems that the world still doesn’t get it! Because reality is messy, there are some people in the world, and even in the Church, who react to all the messiness of life, not by embracing it, but by running from it. Religions seem to be all going back into their corners and making enemies of each other yet again, a sort of a “God loves me and not you” approach. Jews, Moslems and Christians cannot get along! Even some scared Catholics are trying once again to take back all that openness we were famous for just a few years ago! Instead of tearing down fences, they are committed to building them back!

Regardless of what people do or believe, I am convinced more than ever this Christmas that the bottom line of this annual celebration is the unbelievable love God has for all people, yes all people. That’s why smelly shepherds, young refugees, curious foreigners and various “nobodies” have major parts to play in this great story! 

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