While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. —Luke 2:6,7

The sheer physicality of this picture strikes me this Christmas. The baby Jesus, wrapped not in swaddling, baptismal-like garments of the kind you might see in a Renaissance painter’s sumptuous rendering—but in whatever is on hand at the end of a sweaty, arduous journey by two poor pilgrims.

A woman in labor, a first-time father standing by trying to help and only partially succeeding, the animals restlessly crowded around, startled by the new interlopers in their midst. Blood. Sweat. Dirt. Hay. Steaming piles of fresh manure.

And a Jesus who will end his life much as he began it, in blood, sweat, poverty and rejection, wrapped in cloth.

Did Mary expect to deliver her firstborn son in a manger, next to a few cows and sheep? Did she manage at least a laugh at the strange hilarity of her plight, in between the first contractions and the stomping, snorting and lowing of farm animals? Or, did she feel only quiet resignation that bearing a Savior of the world would require this poverty and rejection? But I digress…

This first Christmas was a material one, too, just not in the way we’ve come to celebrate it. Not in harried online shopping and last-minute trips to the mall. Not in worries that the gift we gave was not expensive or impressive enough.

The “material” Jesus comes to redeem are the blood, sweat, tears, poverty and limitation that go along with being human. We need the physicality of this scene, just as we need the physicality of the crucifixion. It is here that our redemption begins. This human God is at the core of what Christians have proclaimed across the centuries. By being with us, by being in our shoes, God begins the work of redemption that continues to this day. “God with us”—the same “Immanuel” the prophet Isaiah proclaimed would come to His people—is a God who cares about our frail human flesh and its corruption. Blood, sweat, tears, poverty and rejection—all of the hardest parts of being human—need to be part of the Christmas story for the very reason that they are the things we most need to know God will redeem.

May your Christmas be richly blessed with the renewed assurance that God is redeeming the hardest parts of being human—of being uniquely you—through the work of One who is with you in the mess.

Merry Christmas!

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