Welcome to the Mess: “My hands are dirty” … “He doesn’t mind”

Glen Scrivener has put together a beautiful little set of short films imagining the scene where a time portal opens between a 21st century British home and Bethlehem on the first Christmas night.

In the story so far,Will and Claire have gone to stay with Claire’s parents for Christmas. It’s not been an easy time for Will the awkward boyfriend but he has been the first to “meet the Nativity~” whilst the rest of the family head off to the midnight service.  On Christmas Day , he shows Claire too.

Now it is her turn to take her step mum, Ruth down to the manger. Part 3 is particularly moving. You can watch it here www.youtube.com/watch?v=lt1syh64seE

Ruth, the stepmum is primarily concerned about the terrible mess and desperate to tidy up. Instead she is asked simply to hold the baby Jesus. She objects:

“But my hands are dirty”

And the Shepherd who has been holding him responds

“Don’t worry he doesn’t mind.”

She takes the baby in her arms and says

“Welcome to the mess”

We want life to be tidy, structured, sorted, don’t we? But it rarely is.  Our lives are messy. This mess includes:

–          The chaos of busyness, so much to do with demanding work and needy families. We end up dropping the plates.

–          The brokenness of damaged relationships: an abusive partner, an absent dad, a wayward teen, an unpleasant divorce.

–          More than anything, the mess is there because of sin. It is we who cause the mess and brokenness because we have turned our back on God. We hurt others with harsh words, we take offence and fail to get reconciled becoming bitter and hard because we nurture horrible judgemental thoughts.  We are too proud to say sorry and so we carry guilt and shame.

We feel dirty but actually the Bible says that we ARE dirty.

Then, here we have a little film clip and the character says about Jesus “He doesn’t mind.” It is okay to draw near.  Can that be right?  After all, doesn’t the Bible say

“Who can ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”

That’s what the Bible tells us and that’s what our hearts tell us. The mess cuts us off from God. Jesus does not want to be near our mess and dirt.

Yet, that’s exactly what we see, not just in the Christmas story but in his life. Jesus is the one who steps down from heaven and enters our messy world. He is the one who is not scared to reach out and touch the leper. He is the one who mixes with sinners and tax-collectors. He is the one who allows a lady considered “dirty and disgusting” by those around him to draw near, weep over him and touch his feet with her hair.

Jesus shows us that God does not stand back at a distance from our mess, covering his mouth and nose with his hand to supress the stench.

So, how do those two things come together?  How do we match what the Bible says about cleanness, holiness and purity? When the shepherd in our clip says “He doesn’t mind.” Does he mean that Jesus isn’t bothered by sin, by the shame, guilt and hurt?  Some well meaning people suggest that this is the Gospel. Jesus accepts you and me as we are, therefore we can go on living  as we are. Their God, their Jesus would never challenge someone about their grumpy temper or their sexual immorality. Jesus “doesn’t mind.” Jesus accepts you just the way you are.

The problem with that message is that it tries to present Jesus as loving but it goes no way far enough in describing love. This Jesus is the polite friend who comes to stay and after an uncomfortable night in a smelly dusty room on a hard bed when asked “How did you sleep?” says “Oh just fine.”

No, that’s not the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. This Jesus isn’t afraid to meet and eat with immoral adulterers, tax collectors and drunkards. This Jesus isn’t afraid to reach out and touch the rotting flesh of a leper. However, it’s not that he “doesn’t mind.” He minds alright but he is here to do something about it. Just as lepers become whole again when Jesus touches them and blind men receive their sight when they meet him, dirty hands become clean hands when they come into contact with Jesus.

Jesus willing comes and meets us in our mess but he does not leave us in our mess.

 “God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[1]

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:21.