Ever noticed how when it comes to taking pictures, we like to clean up, wear our best and look amazing?  I have always laughed with my clients (I’m a professional photographer) that the family portrait is a depiction of about 30 seconds out of our 365 days in a year!  A true family picture would be a little rougher on the edges – a shirt untucked, a dirty faced kid, at least two people looking off doing their own thing and that one slightly crazy family member that we are never sure what he will do!

While I enjoy the “cleaned up Christmas greetings” I receive in the mail, I am worried we sometimes do that to the picture of the birth of our Savior too.

See…one of the things my family does during Advent is to go back to the beginning – to Genesis – and read the stories over again.  We read of a Creator God, a Redeeming God, a Delivering God and we read the true, unedited and NOT cleaned up escapades of humanity.  In fact as we read the account of Abraham, Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah the other day, I was struck by the fact that these are not “children’s stories”.  (Try reading those accounts with your kids straight from the Scriptures and see what sort of questions you have to field!!)  But the cool thing is…this is the picture God has given us.  And He is not embarrassed!!  Abraham is a mess sometimes and he is considered the “father of faith”.  I find that comforting!

During the season leading up to Christmas, we also hear lots of songs that I think have skewed our thinking.  “Silent Night”??   While it is a lovely son, all I can say is “I think not”!  I have delivered two children and there was not silence, nor calmness, nor lack of a mess.  I looked anything but angelic after the process and the red, pruny babies I held really did cry!!  I think of Mary – in a barn, exhausted, trying to figure out how to nurse her Son, puffy-faced from the water she was retaining and from the pushing during delivery.  Of course, she is amazed and staring sweetly at this Newborn but I imagine she is also super hungry, shivering and – had she known what it was – would have loved a hot shower at this point in the journey!  Of course, add to all this the scandal of being pregnant before she was married and trying to come up with a insane story of how angels talked to her and this baby was somehow God’s Son….well, I all I can say is I think we have the “slightly crazy” member of the family picture in place!

And then there are nativity sets…Now I love a good nativity scene as much as the next person but it has always struck me as a little too “cleaned up” for reality.  Maybe we should all go get a little wet and moldy grass to put down under the creche (or maybe a piece of poop to add a little realistic, pungent aroma?). The shepherds probably looked far less like the creator of my nativity imagined and more like the homeless guys I pass as I drive out of Costco.  And then there are those strange “Magi” guys.  True, they may not have arrived that night, but since most nativity set include them, I will too.   These men were some mix of kings AND astrologers!!  They sought the signs in the skies and though astrology is clearly forbidden in the Old Testament, God still invites these men into the picture through a language they understood.  Once again….God is not embarrassed of the people in the picture nor asks them to “clean up”.


To all this I say, please keep sending the lovely Christmas card greetings, but let’s not try to clean up the Christmas story too much.  It was real, it was human, it included people we would have never picked to be in a family picture.  But they are there….and God is not embarrassed by their presence.