Luke 2:6-7. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Small towns. Christmas festivals. Eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. Parties Family. Picture-perfect snow. These are the things of Hallmark Christmas movies that play nonstop from Thanksgiving onward. I once had a friend watch them for all of her waking hours—fifteen hours straight. At the end, she couldn’t tell me much more about them than how they ended happily-ever-after. But Christmas doesn’t always end up shiny and bright. Christmas doesn’t always meet our expectations. So what do you do when things don’t turn out as perfect as you’d like? What do you do when Christmas is not a Hallmark movie?
Maybe it was never supposed to be anyway.
We usually read this part of the Christmas story, we are left with a picture of Mary and Joseph wandering the dark streets alone after being turned away by a rude innkeeper, finally finding a barn as the only available accommodations. But this characterization is only partially true and misses something very important. When Caesar seeks to demonstrate his power and dominate his world by taking an inconvenient census, what he actually does is reunite families in their home territory. When the holy couple, along with the rest of the world, are ordered back to their towns of origin, they make the long trip only to be surrounded with family and units of God-fearing Jews. The Greek word kataluma, which is usually translated as “inn,” actually means “guest room,” the same type of room Jesus ate the Passover with his disciple years later. Even with Joseph’s family’s guest room already being full, the couple is not turned away. A different room in the house—the stable—is provided anyway. It might not exactly be the best quarters for a mother-to-be, but it satisfies Mary’s needs. God has not left the scene for somewhere brighter.
In fact, he’s more fully present than ever.
Through streets and stables, government decrees and journeys, family messiness and human frailty, the Christmas story shows us that God is at work anyway. Things may not be cheery and bright—they may be downcast and dark, actually—but the anyway of God shows he is working his purposes, sometimes in rough journeys and uncomfortable places, and even in the face of imperfect people and their decisions.
Maybe it’s time to celebrate an imperfect Christmas—the perfect place for God to show up.
Are you listening?