When I think about the smells of the Advent and Christmas seasons, my nose immediately goes to my Grandma’s homemade Christmas cookies. I would gladly spend an afternoon making the dough, rolling it out, using the Christmas cookie cutter shapes, and sprinkling red and green sugar in order to do some kid-serious kind of cookie indulgence. And the smell! Oh, my, the whole house would smell something of what I think heaven probably smells like.
But the smells we might typically associate with Christmas (i.e. Christmas cookies, Christmas evergreen trees, and, Christmas presents) are a far cry from the smells of the first Christmas in Bethlehem. When Christ was born, he was surrounded by animals. Jesus was actually placed in a manger, a feeding trough. Shepherds came to pay him homage. I don’t know if you have ever been around shepherds. To put it delicately, they usually stink. In my first church in Michigan, our immediate neighbor was a shepherd. He spent his days shepherding his sheep. His name was Art. Art always smelled bad. Art smelled bad because he was constantly dealing with stinky sheep (not to mention that Art also never used deodorant – guess he thought that was pretty useless).
It is interesting that when Jesus grew up and began his ministry as an adult, he continued to associate with people of low position. The guys he mostly hung out with were his disciples – a bunch of commercial fishermen. If you put a shepherd and a fisherman side by side, I’m not sure which one would stink more. But, to Jesus, shepherds and fishermen had the aroma of salvation on them. Christ purposely sought out those who needed God.
After our Lord’s resurrection and ascension, his disciples continued his ministry of associating with stinky people who need Jesus. It was the Apostle Paul who encouraged the church to “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:16).
Jesus did not come to this earth as a privileged upper class king who demanded that others give him honor and obedience. Instead, he humbled himself and became a servant. He was born into the most humble of circumstances and never aspired to anything but doing his Father’s will. As God’s people, we are to carry with us the aroma of Christ – not creatively finding ways to avoid others – but lovingly engaging those who need the message of Christmas. How do you smell? What aroma do you give off to others?
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
Jesus was a real baby. There were times he smelled. Changing diapers is just part of the deal with babies. The very same baby, Jesus, who had to be cleaned-up and have a first century diaper change, was the person who would one day be stripped of his clothes and hung naked on the cross for the world to see. There is perhaps no more terrible smell than the smell of death, especially death on a cross.
I don’t know of anyone who actually likes dirty diapers, except maybe your dog. You do those endless cleanings and put up with the smell of it because of love. The reason Jesus came to this earth as a vulnerable little baby who was dependent on someone else cleaning him up, and the reason he became obedient to the horrible smell of death was because of love. “This is love,” said the Apostle John, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” And, because Jesus is our pioneer, blazing a trail of salvation love before us, we are to follow him as his devoted disciples. “Dear friends,” John said, “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
We would do well to remember and emphasize such gospel love, especially when Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, this year. In our business and our busy-ness, let’s keep our focus on why we have a Christmas. May your church season be filled with hope, peace, joy, and love as you anticipate the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.