Beneath a miracle star that sat still on a cold Jerusalem night over 2000 years ago, the iconic Nativity Scene took place. The famous gathering was this: Mary, who has just given birth, her husband, Joseph, three wise men who have traveled from afar to worship the Messiah, a bevy of animals who look on reverently, and the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and lying atop a manger of hay. The baby glows brightly; His purity and purpose cannot be contained. It is a beautiful scene. So beautiful, in fact, thousands of years later, it graces our Christmas cards, ornaments, and children’s books.
If only the real Nativity Scene was as our minds have conjured it.
When the innkeeper, whom Joseph had asked about renting a room, directed them to the barn, essentially, Mary was going to give birth in one of the foulest, unsanitary environments imaginable. The stench would have been unbearable—not solely because the animals were dirty, but because their droppings would have been everywhere. The manger, commonly thought of as a lovely wooden structure perfect in size for a baby, was likely an animal trough from which pigs and other animals would eat their slop. It was dirty, likely rat and fly-infested and crowded with animals that were more than likely rarely, if ever, cleaned. And that is where our King was born.
But why? Jesus, the son of the almighty God, could have been born into riches and royalty the likes of which no man or woman could imagine. Why would God allow His holy Son to be born into human squalor? Why enter history in such a mess?
Because Jesus came into the world to enter into the mess of our lives. Not clean and sterile environments but the dirty, embarrassing lives that we have created for ourselves. The dirty Nativity Scene says to mankind, I have come to deliver you from your mess. I’m not afraid of it. I touch lepers. I cry with the grieving. I have dinner with thieves. I wash grimy feet. No one is too dirty for me. Not you with all your secrets. Not you with all your failures, addictions, and fears. I stand in the middle of your mess and offer you My holiness...and I always will.
Take a look at a Nativity scene and let your eyes rest on the baby Jesus. Notice His perfect skin that will be torn to pieces for you and me. Notice His eyes that have you and me in them. Notice His mouth that will one day cry out in horror at the pain of His sacrifice and rejection of His own Father. Perhaps you will look at it differently. Perhaps it will be more beautiful than ever before.