You know the saying: A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind. It’s far from scientific fact. It’s really just an excuse messy people use so they don’t feel the need to clean their room, their desk, or their car. Albert Einstein had bad hair not because he was a genius, but because he didn’t own a hairbrush, or use hair gel. Nevertheless, the use of hair care products does not turn a person into an intellectual. Look at all the pretty people on TV. I rest my case. Yet most of us like to present to the world a well groomed exterior. We wash our faces, brush our teeth, and comb our hair. We put on deodorant, neat clean clothes, and shoes. We get how a presentable exterior builds self-esteem. And it generally evokes respect from friends and strangers. Yet only God can see into the soul and into the heart past whatever our exterior looks like. The rest of the world just has to live with whatever we see in the mirror when we leave the house.
Another saying: Cleanliness is next to godliness. To me, it’s just a big bat neat freaks like to swing in defense of their preference for uncluttered and disinfected spaces, usually against teenagers and creative people. It may be a logical association, cleanliness and godliness, because we are inclined to associate God with order and sanity. But God still retains the right to draw beauty and profound mystery out of clutter and confusion. It is not contrary to God’s nature to create something awesome and wonderful from what we might consider messy. For instance, the book of Genesis tells the story of creation. “The earth was a formless wasteland. Darkness covered the abyss and a mighty wind swept across the waters.” Picture an image of paralyzing chaos, with darkness, wind, and water all around. Experience terror and helplessness as you would in a fragile vessel tossed about at sea in a storm at night. But to the chaos God brought order and calm by creating light, separating day and night. God created the sky to separate the waters below from the waters above. God gathered the waters of the sea, and dry land appeared. It is quite logical and convenient to associate order, neatness and efficiency with God. Order, neatness, and efficiency make us easily think of wisdom and purpose. But not all the time.
Then God created human beings, a bunch of less than perfect yahoos who easily tend toward the messy and the chaotic. From early in our history to the present, we have caused God much sorrow and heartache, from the disobedience of our first parents to the terrifying inhumanities we have invented to settle our differences, and to punish those who inflict indignity and suffering upon us. No matter how wonderfully neat and tidy and logical we want to be, we still exhibit a greater inclination toward chaos and confusion than we do toward order and sanity. Yet we need not despair. It’s not all bad. We know people who love to cook, artists, musicians, poets, actors, athletes, designers, architects, scientists, diplomats and other geniuses of the highest caliber, who often leave a trail of destruction and mayhem in their wake. They may possess amazing talent and produce amazing works, but they almost always leave dirty dishes in the sink, remnants and spare parts that need putting away, excitement and upheaval in the minds and hearts of many. Yes, they might accomplish great achievements and produce magnificent masterpieces, but it seems someone else has to clean up the mess they eventually leave behind.
And it is into this chaos that God periodically steps in, to bring order and calm, to make sense, and convey purpose. Yet God does nothing to eliminate the chaos. With patience and compassion, God transforms the chaos so it does not overpower, devastate or paralyze. It is into this chaos that God sent his only Son to win us reconciliation and redemption. God does nothing to eliminate sin or evil. God transforms it so its power does not overwhelm.
We can imagine God preparing the details of Jesus’ entry into human history through his birth as a child in the manner of all human births. Did God anticipate the chaos and confusion this would generate? God chose a woman to be the child’s mother and freed her from the sin of Adam and Eve. And although his physical form would not result from human generation, the holy child would need a family to nurture him into maturity, to enable him to accomplish his mission of teaching, healing and suffering for sinful humanity. This intervention of God in human history brought about some turmoil in the lives of Mary and Joseph. But God would need their cooperation to accomplish his grand design. In turn, the holy child would be a sign of contradiction, confronting the chaos of sin and death, establishing God’s dominion of everlasting peace. He would be rejected by many. But in that rejection would be our salvation.
This season of great expectation is often for us filled with much chaos and clutter. We would much rather have peaceful days and quiet evenings to go about our business, to reflect on the mysteries of our faith, and to celebrate with our families and friends. Instead, news of war and devastation, school shootings, drone strikes, terror and injustice fill the air. We hear of great poverty and need, of hunger and disease. We hear of people suffering from neglect, from crime, from inclement weather. And in the midst of this chaos, we pause to celebrate the birth of a child whose coming was foretold by prophets for many generations. We celebrate the child who would raise us from the chaos that surrounds us, and himself experience our weaknesses, our turmoil and our alienation. God does nothing to eliminate the chaos. Instead, God transforms it with patience and compassion. The promised child’s name is Emmanuel—God with us. God is indeed with us, in the turmoil of our lives, where we experience injustice, need and neglect. And God invites us to lend a hand in the work of transformation. “Do not be afraid,” the angel told Joseph in a dream. Rather, open your eyes and recognize the presence of love in the chaos that surrounds you. God will not allow it to overpower us. But with patience and compassion, God will transform it. Even God set out on his human journey as a child, then as a teenager. And we know how messy that can be. But we can trust that God walks with us in the turmoil and the messiness of our lives.
Rolo B Castillo © 2013