Everyone that I know has either seen or heard of the "Nativity Scene". Pictures of it typically involve a gaggle of rosy cheeked cherubs, some soft faced shepherd boys, various animals, three wise men, Joseph, Mary, and of course the Birthday Boy.
Growing up, my mom was very fond of ours and it went through several incarnations but the earliest one that I can most vividly recall was a glorified cardboard version that, while artistically sprinkled with hay and sawdust for ambiance, didn't exactly hold up after years of moving. We can also mention the fact that sheep would tend to disappear each year, thanks to the furry lay-abouts that meow. I always liked the Nativity Scene and grow more fond of it over the years when I think of how picture perfect a representation is has become for most of us in the western world.
Holidays are messy. They're stressful. Usually there are times when tempers might run a little short, and let's not talk about people being literally trampled to death on Black Friday... just so folks can have a good deal on a new TV for the holiday season. Eggnog is probably more readily available than most of us would like to admit, it's probably packs a little more punch than is talked about in more than whispers, and it pairs well with the cookies that took a day to bake and almost caused a divorce over decorating them just right. And then the in-laws show up.
Yet some how, out of all that chaos, insanity, burgeoning alcoholism, and marriage counseling comes a family photo. People are smiling, they're relaxed, they're happy... no... they're joyful. That, my friends, is why I like the Nativity scene... it's a single moment captured for us and our imaginations about how it might have been on that night so long ago.
The real picture might have been a little rougher around the edges...
Joseph just came home, probably for the first time in a very long while, and he has what's akin to girl just cresting into her teens... and she's pregnant... and the kid isn't his. The family was clearly thrilled, because the first thing we know is that they were looking for rooms at any inn that would take them. It was only after that route went the way of the dodo, that Joe and Mary ended up at the family compound. No room there either? Really? No couch to sleep on? No recliner for a clearly pregnant girl to sit down for a minute on? No, but we have a barn. That had to sting a bit for Joseph.
Mary, having just ridden mule back to get to Bethlehem, is not in a great place. She's about to pop, labor pains and contractions were probably either starting or had been since the donkey stumbled a few miles back. This whole thing started when a heavily armored and glowing dude showed up in her bed chamber in the middle of the night and Romans only wish they looked that good. What had she gotten herself into? A baby? Sex usually happened first, and that's something that Joseph hadn't pressed about before they were married (almost divorced) and now... this? No room at any inn? No room with family? A barn? This was how the alleged son of God was going to come into this world? This... this was not the plan she had in mind.
As a quick aside, if you've not seen the birth of any mammal, let alone the birth of a human being... it's not something easily written about. It's... messy, to say the least. There are complications in modern hospitals and with trained midwives all the time (though thankfully less so through modern medicine... and yes, yes... I know that this is one of the things that the Romans did for us... along with the aqueducts, and sanitation, roads, irrigation, education, wine, and public order... moving along). But we're not talking about a Roman healer. We're not talking about a midwife. We're not talking about a bedroom with even so much as boiled water and clean cloth. We get a barn. A manger.
Messy. It was a messy sight. Barns are messy. Births are messy. Family is messy. Christmas is messy. But at the end of it all... you don't often remember the messy. You remember the fun, the happiness, the joy, the feelings, and we remember a single night where under a starburst... God, the author, stepped into the story to rescue the world that had walked away from Him and chosen something other than Him. A promise made; a promise kept. Treasure those snapshots, those Christmas photos, those manger scenes, capture them in your memory and remember them. Despite everything else going on around you, despite all the Enemy has arrayed against you and despite all of this fallen and broken world constantly moving deeper under the sway of the Adversary, remember that in a single snapshot in history... the war was won.