I was a messy child. My mother would often say how she could always tell where I sat at the table. Apparently, I would leave too much evidence of my presence behind. If I didn’t want to eat something, I would discretely slide it off of my plate and tuck it under the edge. When the plate was lifted the evidence would remain…but not until I had already been excused from the table. I would then pretend to not hear the calling of my mother to come finish my supper. Even in the event that it was a supper that I enjoyed…the speed of which I ate would often result with food flying around my face, much like a wood chipper devouring an oak branch.
My messes were not just localized to the dinner table…they could also be found in my bedroom…and in fact anywhere I went I would leave a trail of evidence behind. Socks, pants, stolen cookie crumbs, toys, candy wrappers, etc. could be found leading to my whereabouts like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs before the birds ate them up. In this case I didn’t stumble upon the “old lady” as much as she followed me via my trail.
When I was 23 years old, I had been hired as the student ministries pastor at Alliance Church in Little Falls. I was single and living in a basement apartment. I was engaged to be married…but not until June of the following year.
During, my first Christmas in that apartment I set up a lowly Christmas tree. It was a tree that I had cut myself for free from a local farmer…he had lots of trees in his field and so I am sure he didn’t mind. The tree was decorated with one strand of lights…one strip of garland…one strip of red beads…and 12 ornaments…that was all I could afford. It was one pathetic…empty…ugly…messy looking tree…but it went with the décor.
If anyone would have walked into my apartment during that Christmas season, they would have found dirty clothes scattered all around the floors…not just the bedroom…dirty…socks…shirts…pants…unmentionables…a half eaten pizza on the coffee table…peanut shells all over the table and carpet…empty bottles of Mountain Dew.
It was every bit of the stereo typical bachelor pad…a messy bachelor at that. I grew up in a small town…12 miles out of town…in a small town in fact. Locking your doors seemed unnecessary…especially in a basement apartment…where you have your landlord living upstairs to keep a watch over things.
One evening during this Christmas season…my landlord was apparently gone…or had his eyes closed or fixated on a Minnesota Viking game. I returned home to find my apartment had been broken into…I suppose broken into is an overstatement, considering the lack of the door being locked. As soon as I stepped in, I knew something was off…someone had been in here.
Someone had stolen my pizza…someone had stolen my empty pop bottles…someone had stolen my unmentionables!!! Someone had stolen my peanut shells…(which incidentally make for a great sweeping compound…just not on carpet). Not only had these things been stolen…but they also stole the dust from my floor…the cobwebs from my corners…and actually added Christmas lights and ornaments to my incredibly lame Christmas tree.
It was then that I found the note…a handmade Christmas card…“Merry Christmas”…and then listed the names of the perpetrators…about a half a dozen of my students.
I was surprised by my reaction to this event. It would seem reasonable to think…“Wow!...How nice! They cleaned up the apartment…they beautified the tree…and the rest of the place!”
But that is not how I felt…I actually felt…mortified! Here, within the confines of my walls, were the secrets of how I actually lived…the messy life that I didn’t really want anyone to see. If anyone were to come over…I would hide my mess…the real me…before they could enter. These students however, entered into my mess…my real mess…and they changed it…from the inside…without me asking.
When Christ came…on that first Christmas night…the world was much like my apartment. It was a disaster. There was pain…poverty…disease…persecution…oppression…corruption…and darkness.
When the world was at its DARKEST…God gave to us…a light.
When Mary and Joseph first arrived at the innkeeper’s door, looking for a place to stay…the innkeeper had nothing to offer…but he gave him the barn…a cave really…the floor didn’t have pizza crumbs, pop bottles, peanut shells or unmentionables. It did have…dirt, animals, animal excrement, perhaps some hay and a feed trough.
Jesus Christ…came…into a messy place…a messy world…for us.
“WHILE WE WERE STILL MESSY”
He did not wait for us to get cleaned up for him…He stepped into our mess…at just the right time.
This Christmas, I am willing to bet that you will find a moment…when you look around…and see all of the empty boxes…the torn wrapping laying around…dirty dishes in the sink…stains on the table cloth…or floor.
May it cause you to pause…and understand that Christ desires to enter into your mess…and take care of it. My hope for you is that you will come to a place where you will invite him into your messy life. He says that he will do it, if we will just ask.
Will you ask?
We cannot clean the mess on our own.
If you are tired of trying to clean up your own messes unsuccessfully…may you choose Jesus this Christmas.
AND…may you always keep your apartment doors locked.