Most of us carry traditional images in our mind of that first Christmas. A peaceful scene with Joseph and Mary serenely gazing at the sleeping baby in the manger.


But truth be told, our imaginings of the nativity barely resemble that night in Bethlehem. The story is so familiar to us that we need to see it afresh.


What did the first Christmas really look like? It was messy! Especially for Mary who was living it out in real time. From two thousand years of hindsight, we see how beautifully it turned out, but Mary could only see it through eyes of faith.


Like any girl, Mary probably dreamed about how her life would play out…her betrothal, her wedding day, and then (all in good time) she and Joseph would be blessed with children. But virgins don’t have babies! She never imagined the scandal, gossip, and heartache she would encounter.


Strip away the imaginary silence of that first Christmas night. “Away in a manger . . . no crying He makes.” Really? The ordeal of childbirth is anything but silent.


Strip away the calm demeanor and serene expression on Mary’s face. Why did they not have a reservation? Was there no one willing to give up their room for a pregnant woman? Labor would have been hard, long, and exhausting. If you’ve ever witnessed it firsthand, you know that, in the hours after childbirth, no one looks like the Mary you see on Christmas cards!


Strip away the tidiness. I’ve seen the dirty hands and unwashed faces of shepherds. I’ve seen sheep and oxen in close quarters. Our sanitized version has little in common with reality—after all, Baby Jesus was born in a smelly stable.


Yes, it was messy, just like your life and mine. There are messes we inherit as humans. There are messes we ourselves create. Some messes come and blindside us out of the blue.


We all have hopes and ideas of how life should be, but even the best laid plans are subject to change. Mary and Joseph didn’t have the final say, and the same is true for you and me. We have a plan and whoosh—it changes! Like Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”


Perhaps Christmas looks very different for you this year. For that matter, life may be so messy right now that you struggle to make sense of it. But know this . . . God has a good plan. It isn’t what you think. It isn’t what you planned. But it is better than you imagine.


Mary was planning a wedding but God was planning to send our Savior into the world. The good news is, we don’t have to fully understand in order to obey Him. Her response to the angel was, “May it be to me as you have said.”


By faith, we can celebrate before we understand. We can offer a sacrifice of praise for the beauty that will come out of the messiness of life. We can stop chasing our plan “a” and trust God’s Plan “A” knowing that He can handle the mess. The reality is that He walks with us through it.


Immanuel, God with us.


That is why Jesus came to this earth. He came to die on the cross to cleanse away the stain of our sins because He loves us.


This is the true reason for Christmas.


Right now, your story may not look the way you had hoped it would. But God invites you into His story. Like Mary, will you embrace the messiness of change, even through pain, knowing that God has a purpose?


He wants to do something wonderful for you and it will be better than you can imagine.