Despite the fact that we have yet to have a Norman Rockwell, Hallmark-y, squabble-less, snaffoo-less holiday, my heart continually and sinfully expects one.
My head conjures images of a quiet night snuggled up by the fire listening to Christmas hymns. Reality offers me three sons wrestling WWF style in front of a smokey fireplace that is not properly venting to the tune of Baby Shark.
However, as I have continued to my study of Proverbs, the Lord gave me the sweet gift of a strange proverb this week.
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. Proverbs 14:4.
Perhaps because it is Advent and my ears are attuned to the manger, or perhaps because of its oddness, this Proverb has been planted in my meditations for the past few days.
Benson wisely states the following explanation in his commentary.
“The crib and stable may be easily kept clean where there are few or no oxen: but there is so much advantage arising from tilling the ground, that it is better to have a litter with plenty of oxen, than to have great neatness without them.”
In order to have any blessing, any abundance, any harvest, mess is a prerequisite. While this proverb applies to the cluttered piles that follow my children’s every movements, it applies to far more than hearth and home: the mess of imperfect relationships, the mess of ministry to sentient souls, the mess of conflict and intimacy which are inextricably bound together, the messy squabbles of fallen mothering.
Along those lines, it would be more loving and fitting to bless friends by saying, “A very untidy yuletide to you!” An untidy yuletide might look like making space for a friend who is alone during the holidays or missing a holiday party last minute to care for a sick child or neighbor. It could take the form of slimmer stockings because a family desperately needs help paying an electric bill or higher household volume because you decide to invest in a tribe of your children’s friends.
After all the pure, uncreated Son of God became an embryo. Within a tiny cellular spec was all the spaciousness of heart that would swallow sin yet save the sinner. A soft-skinned, yuck-covered newborn was laid in an itchy, unsterilized manger. And by this messy beginning, the most productive and unthinkable harvest was planted: a harvest of righteousness for the unrighteous.
Fitting that his birth was neither neat nor tidy, as his death- that culmination for which he came – was just the same.
The Messy Manger
Afterbirth spilled on the ground
From Him who’d bring afterlife.
Exhausted Mary strove in labor
Delivering Him who’d end our strife.
Straw itches, droppings stink.
And babies aren’t born tidily
Sacrifices don’t bleed within the lines;
Forgiveness does not come cheaply.
Purity in a feeding trough;
Perfection nailed to a tree.
From first arrival to ascension,
Our hope was secured messily.
Had Christ chosen tidiness and stayed in His Trinitarian hug, there would have been no harvest of righteousness through His redemption. May we move towards messiness and brokenness and instability, not insulate ourselves from it. May we bring our sin which is the deeper problem beneath every problem to Christ and invite others to join us. May we not white-wash and bleach Christmas into a Precious Moments Nativity. May we remember the messy manger that led to the messier Cross and fall in humble worship.