During my time in the police in Scotland, I was involved in several royal visits. When the Royals are coming, everything gets cleaned up. I often thought that they must think that the whole world smells of fresh paint. Once famously in Glasgow, only one side of a graffitied wall was painted, the side the royal Rolls Royce would glide by for all of 2 minutes, the other side that local residents had to look at every day was left with its obscenities. One side of the wall was cleaned up and sanitized, the other was left dirty and uncouth. That wall is a sort of metaphor for how we celebrate Christmas today.

I often think we do the same with the first Christmas that Glasgow council did with the side of the wall the Queen would see, we clean it up. The paintings of the stable Jesus was born in rarely show the dung that surely must have been there. The animals look like they have been cleaned and groomed for an agricultural show.  Mary and Joseph appear Gucci smart rather than as a poor couple who have been living rough on a long arduous journey by foot. The renaissance paintings reproduced on our Christmas cards turn the rough sleeping shepherds into men with flowing robes and coiffured hair not to mention neatly trimmed beards. The shepherds look noble when in reality their contemporaries regarded them with either deep suspicion or derision.  The song of the Angel choir which they would have sung in the language of the working class shepherds all too often today has become highbrow and operatic, sometimes even sung in Latin.

What I am trying to say is that we often celebrate a sanitized Christmas rather than the real Christmas.

In the real Christmas God enters smelly places, mixes with suspect people, and uses a young couple surrounded by gossip and the whiff of scandal over a pregnancy out of marriage. In other words, God enters the real world of real people.

I think it’s important we celebrate the real Christmas not a royal sanitized Christmas because we don’t live sanitized lives, do we?  Our lives are often as messy as that stable and as complicated as Mary and Joseph’s relationship. The real Christmas reminds us that God still comes to messy places and to people living difficult complicated lives. Our God doesn’t experience the royal world of fresh paint and clean respectable people He is not afraid to enter our real world. He truly is Immanuel, God with us, in our lives no matter how messy they are.

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