A minister friend of mine was telling me a few days ago about her daughter who was reluctant to attend yet another Christmas service and who asked with a tired voice, "How many different ways are there to rehash the same old story?" The answer to the cynical question is that there are endless ways of telling the old, old story because it is the living word of God. Every time it is retold it sparkles with life. It contains new insights into ourselves, our world and the God who made us and, as we enter a New Year, we need to live closely to the lessons that the Christmas story has taught us.
This Christmas I was particularly struck by the catastrophic lack of planning in the story of Jesus' birth. On the face of it almost every detail could have been improved upon. Surely things would have gone much more smoothly if Joseph had been informed of Mary's miraculous pregnancy at the same time as she found out about it. And why couldn't God have organized the census at a different time? Was it really necessary to drag a heavily pregnant woman on a long and arduous journey to the other end of the country? And surely God, the Creator of the world, could have done something about the humiliating rule of the Romans and suspended it for a while. And I would have thought that with the smallest amount of forward planning a bed could have been found for the young mother and the Son of God. And so I could go on.
But that's the point. The Christmas story reveals to us a God who meets us in our muddle. He comes into the heart of this messy world and shows us how we can find life, life in all its fullness. As we enter a New Year we are surrounded by challenges and problems. There are many countries around the world that are tearing themselves apart. The agonizing images from Syria are a constant source of horror. And Northern Ireland, after a long period of calm, is once again producing sickeningly unwelcome headlines. Many families are struggling to make ends meet, and are fearful of the future. And we in our Baptist family are making a number of people redundant as we seek to balance our budget in this harsh climate.
It's a tough time, and much of what is happening is very messy and unpleasant. But the Christmas message has reminded us that that is precisely the world into which Jesus came ... and into which he still comes. This is the Good News which everyone needs to hear. Many people assume that they need to get their lives together before they can approach God. But that is the opposite of the truth. God comes to us as we offer him our mess and as we invite him to walk with us in the midst of it.
So let's not be discouraged by the mess in which we may find ourselves, but be encouraged by the knowledge that that's exactly where God wants to meet us. With a full heart we all need to pray, "God bless this mess." And as we do so we can be sure that that's exactly what he wants to do.