Each year during the Christmas season, we find ourselves surrounded by songs, sermons, and scenes depicting Jesus as a baby in a manger. We sing carols about how he came to save us and to bring hope, peace, joy, and love – all incredibly powerful truths. But this year, as my family has been walking through the Advent season together, I’ve been pondering what it means that God came to earth, not mature and fully formed, but as a loud, messy, unpredictable baby.
This can be a difficult idea for our image-obsessed culture to embrace. Most of us prefer our lives to be relatively tidy, logical, and orderly – at least from the outside looking in. But how often does everything in our lives stay neat and tidy for long periods of time? How many of our intimate relationships stay neat and tidy for long stretches of time? Where there is life and growth, there are messes! So if messes are inevitable, maybe they aren’t as bad as we think they are, but perhaps instead we need to examine our responses to the messes that happen.
In John chapter 3, Jesus explicitly referred to the growing-up process we all go through when He explained the Kingdom of God to the religious leader named Nicodemus. Nicodemus had come to Jesus under the cover of night, searching for more answers to his questions. They didn’t talk long before Jesus had revealed the secret of God’s kingdom to him, saying “you must be born again” (John 3:3)
If you’re like me, you might read that verse through your “Christian filter” and it might sound pretty normal. But what might Nicodemus have thought when hearing that sentence for the first time? How unexpected it must have been! I imagine He had expected Jesus to share some sort of profound statement full of wisdom that would blow His mind. (And in fact, that’s exactly what Jesus did.) But at the time, I don’t think Nicodemus expected to hear that he needed to become a baby again! In the next verse, we can see that he responded quite literally to Jesus’s statement, exclaiming, “how can someone be born again when they are old? Can they enter into their mother’s womb a second time?” (paraphrase) But of course, we have the helpful perspective of knowing that Jesus didn’t mean literally, He was speaking metaphorically. So if we follow that metaphor to its natural conclusion, what do we infer?
Well, first of all, we can first infer that becoming a spiritual baby who is learning everything all over again is not only OK, it’s actually a requirement!” You MUST be born again,” Jesus says. And yet this metaphor of birth and babies sure brings with it a very messy-sounding reality. Many of us, if we’re honest, might admit how uncomfortable it sounds. After all, who wants to go back to the baby stage of being helpless and vulnerable?! Isn’t it better to maintain the posture of being wise and respected? Shouldn’t that be of the most value in God’s kingdom?
But God’s kingdom is not of this world. It thrives not in the pride of perfection, but in the simplicity of our humble, messy growth. The step-by-step stages of our spiritual growth and development may never feel easy or tidy; but over time, as we embrace God’s good plan to parent us, we grow from spiritual babies to curious children, to mature adults. This radical acceptance of God’s wisdom and timing sets us up towards sustained maturity and great wisdom through our dependence on Him. Meanwhile, there is so much more grace for our messes and mistakes than we think there is! God is not surprised by them, and just like every good parent, He will help us – teaching us and loving us unconditionally through it all.
We will all continue to make messes and mistakes throughout our lives, but because of Jesus, they don’t have the power to define us or to change our identity. Messes and mistakes are a normal, even expected result of our growth and development as people and Christ-followers. We must remember that as children of God, we desperately need Him to parent us to maturity.
In Psalm 40:2, David describes God’s mercy this way:
“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”
From a muddy pit to a firm and strong foundation, God’s love for us, through the life of Jesus, brings help, hope, and redemption to even our worst messes!
This Christmas, I encourage you to spend time remembering that Love came down as a baby. It wasn’t easy, quiet, or tidy, but it was good. Let’s give thanks to God for sending Jesus into our messy world, to redeem it and restore it. No matter what messes might be present in your life, you can take heart knowing that God will not leave you there in your mess, but lift you up out of it and set your feet on solid ground. We can give it all to God, the redeemer of our messes, and proclaim like the angels in Bethlehem so long ago, “Glory to God in the highest!” Love has come.