Picture the nativity scene. A well-groomed Mary and Joseph are sat comfortably in their seats. Freshly washed linen swaddles a placid baby in Mary's arms. Some very respectful farmyard animals graze nearby. Well-wishing shepherds and long-travelling wise guys from the East turn up - and they show up with some carefully considered gifts.
It's scene of contentment and order. One that we've been able to identify since we were little children in the school play. That's the final scene anyway. The baby has been born, the gifts and pleasantries have been exchanged by the visitors and the whole setting pretty much hangs in time until we pick up the story some thirty years later - and the baby Jesus has become a healing tradesman-prophet with exceptional oratory skills.
But what about those cosy, cute scenes in the early days!? What a quaint little image to warm our hearts in preparation for the feasting, boozing and present unwrapping in just over a week's time.
As a guy who has recently witnessed childbirth, I can only imagine how messy things actually got for Mary and Joseph. The toned-down, photoshopped image of the stable and the manger must have been totally gruesome in reality. The mind boggles at the lack of support and sterilisation. Mary was in her early teens. Joseph was a calloused-handed carpenter. There were no beds, midwives, pain relief - nothing.
It must have been horrendous.
It's easy to lift up praise to God as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords - victorious, great, powerful. But it's equally important to recall those times when He was helpless, small, naked and crying.
To recall just how far He had to come in order to begin His work of intervention and salvation on our behalf is vital. From the cosmos to the cradle.
How messy must our situation be that it requires God to come down from Heaven!? To go through any one of the circumstances that He went through while walking on Earth - being a baby, eating, working, washing, learning a trade - the list is countless - so that He might literally be able to walk in our shoes (and that's before even mentioning the crucifixion that His life resulted in).
Many of the carols we'll sing this Christmas will contain the word 'Emmanuel' - God with us.
For the other 364 days of the year, He is still very much with us. But this Christmas time, look deeper into the quaint nativity scene. That messy scene depicts the early moments when God stepped down into 'real world', in order that we might know that He really is forever with us. Through our mess, sin, folly, pride and shame came a tiny little baby who quickly grew in wisdom and understanding to become a King who overcame a crucifixion just 3 decades later.
From the very beginning to the very end, it's a captivating set of facts.