Earlier this month our family, along with my parents, boarded a plane on vacation. A few hours after returning home from the wonderful week long trip, I received a text message from my father. “Kim, I just want you to know how much I thoroughly enjoyed spending the week with you, Trent, and the kids.”
These words were more than just words in a text message. They were words that God used to speak to my heart in a very real way.
Why would the fact that my father “enjoyed” spending all of his time with our family touch my heart so much? Perhaps it is because life with six children, ages twelve and under, can be a little “messy”. In our family, you can guarantee that someone is going to have a meltdown or will forget an item that will cause a delay. You can also bet that at least one child won’t like the dinner being served.
Needless to say, I often feel we are just a “mess.”
Upon returning from our vacation, my mind turned to preparing for the Christmas season. I hadn’t yet bought any presents, no decorations were put out, and I didn’t have a lot of time. Perhaps it was my own feeling of “messy” that caused me to see the Christmas story in a whole new light.
As I have reflected on the birth of Jesus, it appeared to be “messy” to say the least. Mary and Joseph were required to travel during the time leading up to her delivery, and there was no room for Mary and Joseph to stay in when she delivered. Surely God knew that detail when He picked the day of delivery for His son. How could this oversight happen? Did God forget to find a room when He was planning the birth story? Let’s not forget that Jesus was wrapped in “swaddling cloths.” Where was the monogrammed outfit with matching hat and blanket? Surely Mary didn’t forget to pack that with her on their trip. Next you have the birth announcement! Shepherds definitely weren’t the highest people on the societal rung. Were they the best He could find? It all looked like a mess – an unplanned, untimed mess.
Yet, was it?
As I looked to find meaning in this “mess,” I found the most beautiful, carefully planned birth story in history. Every detail of the event held grand significance that can easily be overlooked.
While I knew that the city of Jesus’ birth fulfilled prophecy, there were several other details I had never noticed before. One verse from Luke 2:12 “ And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” has lived in my memory for years.
What was the sign? What was the meaning?
Maybe you are like me and learned the verse as swaddling “clothes.” Many scholars believe that is wasn’t clothes as you and I know them, but “cloths” without an “e” in it. The words swaddling cloths are full of significance. I have read numerous commentaries on what these swaddling cloths could have been or represented. Many scholars believe that these cloths were the same ones used by people in that time to wrap around a dead body. If that is true, what amazing symbolism is presented to us in the manger!
While we often think of the manger as a feeding trough, it also had another use. It is believed that shepherds surrounding the city of Bethlehem provided first-born sheep as a sacrifice for those in the temple. The newborn lamb was wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in a manger to protect it from blemish! To a shepherd, the announcement that you will find a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in the manger would be great with significance! There you had the sacrificial lamb all wrapped up in cloths signifying His ultimate purpose. Isn’t it amazing that God would speak to the shepherds in language that they would understand!
As I looked closer , I suddenly see what seemed liked a poorly planned “mess” was actually full of divine direction. With this in mind, this new perspective filled me with hope.
Perhaps the words of my dad that day showed me an important truth I had failed to see. What I perceived as a mess was actually signs of life, glimpses of grace, and hints of God at work!
Perhaps it speaks to you as well. Maybe you are in the middle of a failing marriage, a financially difficult time, a season of questions, or just worn out from daily struggles. Look for the hand of God in the middle of your mess! I pray that these thoughts bring you hope. After all, it may be that you too will see that what looks like an untimed, unplanned mess is actually nothing short of a miracle in the making!