Thursday, December 16, 2004

Cleanliness Is Far From Godliness

Question: If you were a shepherd 2,000 years ago and while you were outside watching the sheep one night an angel showed up with a message from God -- well, what would you do?

Answer: Panic.

Shepherds were not highly regarded in those times. It wasn't a very noble profession. You practically lived outside with animals -- stupid animals at that. You were constantly coming into contact with...well...animal stuff. Unclean was not merely a description -- it was a condition for them. They were unclean hygienically and ceremonially.

I bet their first thought when they saw the angel was, "Oh, crap! What did we do now?" They knew that God didn't like unclean people, so they probably assumed that the angel was there to tell them God was mad at them -- or worse.

But the angel begins with the familiar refrain: "Fear not. God's not angry. In fact, I've got good news for everybody -- even dirty shepherds like you. You know all the stuff that's wrong with the world -- all that stuff you wish could get fixed but looks hopeless? Well, God's going to do something about it. He's sending someone to save the day. This Savior is also going to be The King. You can go see him if you want. Here's how you'll know him when you see him...."

Okay, wait. Don't hurry on here. If you're that shepherd, how do you think that sentence should end? This is the one sent from Almighty God to turn everything that's upside-down rightside-up. This guy is supposed to deliver. He's going to be the greatest King you've ever seen. How will you know him when you find him?

He'll be wrapped in satin and lying in a hand-carved crib. In his hand will be a golden rattle, and in his mouth will be a silver spoon.


"He'll be wrapped in rags, lying in a feed trough, surrounded by animals (kind of like one of your kids would be)."

Here's how you'll know the Messiah when you see him: you'll find him in the middle of a big mess. The whole reason this is good news -- to the shepherds and to us -- is because we're all messy people. Every night people come on television, and under the heading "news" they simply 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 consciences, our habits. I cannot think of a single place we haven't managed to mess up. And we can't seem to fix it. Try as we may, we cannot put Humpty together again.

So, the angel comes and says, "Here's the good news: God is not afraid of a mess."

Our God doesn't care how messy your life is. It couldn't be any messier than his was. He was born in a mess -- wrapped in rags, laid in a manger -- and he ended his life in a mess -- wrapped in rags, hung on a cross. And in between the first day and the last day, he mostly hung out with messy people.

Christmas proves that you don't have to clean up for him. Cleanliness, it turns out, is far from Godliness. It's our messiness that draws him.