On a Tuesday afternoon, I arrived on campus early. My plan was to prepare for appointments with students and use the remaining time to read from my Advent devotional. I was looking forward to a restful afternoon, enjoying God’s presence while on campus.
I walked into the student union and the scene flooded my senses: the smell of ketchup and fried foods assaulted my nose, packs of students at every table crowded my vision, laughter and shouting coupled with the low hum of conversation filled my ears. Normally the Union was quiet in the afternoons. But for some reason, today it was busy. I spotted an empty table near the food court and claimed it as quickly as I could. Taking a deep breath, I unpacked my bag and settled into my seat, preparing to lose myself in my devotional.
Before I could finish the first sentence, the guys at the table next to me began playing music loudly on their speakers. One of the guys said, “Hey! This is the one I was talking about. It’s sick!” Irritated, I glanced up from my book. I glared at them but quickly scolded myself. This is a public space. They have a right to listen to music.
I turned back to my book and began reading again.
You’re such a d***!
Startled, I turned toward the noise and another table was laughing loudly. This was not what I had in mind. The irritation rose within my chest. How dare these people disturb my quiet moments with God! Yet, I felt an internal nudging. God seemed to say, I’m here too, listen!
As I reflected on the noise around me, it occurred to me that God himself came in an inconvenient and inappropriate way. His mother, Mary was an engaged pre-teen virgin. And to add insult to injury, she had to travel for a census during her last month of pregnancy. When Mary and her husband Joseph arrived at their destination, there were no rooms left for them. Poor Mary was forced to give birth in a dirty, working barn far from home. It was noisy. It was gross. It was inappropriate for the Creator of the Universe.
We expect God to come with pomp and circumstance. Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate if he were born to a nice royal family in a great palace? Or at least in a tidy room with access to some form of health care? We expect him to be shiny, clean and sterile. We expect him to be far away from our grime and mess. Certainly not in the middle of it.
But this is why Advent is important. This is the beautiful foolishness of the God we serve. He is a God who willingly chooses to meet us right in the middle of our chaotic world.
And isn’t this what we long for?
I see it in my students- Ann* who is a survivor of sexual assault, Callie* who is coming to terms with her addiction to alcohol, Tim* who is tired of being misunderstood by his peers- all of them longing for God to meet them in their mess.
I see it in our nation. We long for justice in Ferguson, Staten Island, and Cleveland. We long for systems of injustice to be erradicated and for God to bring healing and wholeness to our communities.
And I see it in me. Just this week, I asked a mentor this question, “Where is Jesus in my mess? Where is he?”
Are you asking this question too?
As you navigate congested parking lots and deal with impatient drivers after a long day at work. Where is Jesus in my mess?
As you struggle to squeeze in the shopping and decorating and baking. Where is Jesus in my mess?
As you battle mental illness or fatigue during the holidays, the fog threatening to drag you under again. Where is Jesus in my mess?
As you cater to your kids, your spouse, and your in-laws and the to do list keeps growing. Where is Jesus in my mess?
As you hear yet another heartbreaking story on the news. Where is Jesus in our mess?
If we listen, Advent is persistently answering this question. Loudly. Inappropriately. With the groaning of a mother. With the smell of dirt and blood. With the cry of a child.
God is firmly and decidedly in the middle of our mess.
Jesus, we long for you to meet us in our mess- to sit with us, to mourn with us, to pick up the pieces and put us back together again. As we wade through the mess of our lives and the mess of our world, help us to know that you are in the middle of it with us. Help us to find joy in the fact that you came and entered into our chaos and that you will come again to make all things new and whole. Amen
*Names changed for confidentiality