As we peer through the postcard and take a look at what the first Christmas was really like - family feuds, competing messages, messes and stinks and stalls - we start to get a sense that the first Christmas, for all the nice, neat, clean images we like to hold of it, really was not unlike so many of ours. It was, and for good reason, a very human event, with the markings of fallen man all over it.
The good reason, of course, is that Jesus Christ, Son of God, was God made flesh in that moment, and if it were anything less than a thoroughly human event, we would not know how fully He had come to us.
But the truth about that first Christmas - and about so many of ours - is that at any moment, it could have changed. At any moment, the story could have turned the page and unfolded completely differently than the version that we have of it today.
Joseph's family could have seen his staunch refusal to leave his pregnant fiance, and one of them could have opened their home to the couple, pulling them out of the barn altogether. Another guest at the inn, most likely a woman, could have heard the familiar sounds of childbirth and chosen to bring the young mother and her new babe into a certain quarters in the inn. The innkeeper could have gotten strong wind of what was going on and come out to shift the animals around, making a cleaner, more livable space for the new family of three - or at least ordering a servant to do it. An angel could have come to any number of men and women in Bethlehem and spoken a word, and we have no idea how the story would have turned.
We could have gone from a Christmas story where there was no room for Jesus to a Christmas story where humanity made room for Jesus. All it takes is one character, one person to step into something new, to discover something previously unknown, to have one moment of bold faith or even human compassion, and we might not be sitting here talking about a baby in a barn. We might be talking about something else entirely.
The same is true for our Christmas stories, our not-so-quiet, unwelcome, unbelieving, quite-a-scene Christmas stories. At any moment, our stories could turn and unfold in an entirely new way.
And in one breathtaking moment, they have.
That breathtaking moment happens when the Christ child takes His first breath. When the stale air of a fallen world hits the tender lungs of Word breathed flesh. When a silent night turns into a wild ride. And all of a sudden, we look around at all of the mess and the muck and the mire and the very human nature of, well, human nature and say, yeah.
This is Christmas.
And it's beautiful.