It’s Christmas Day and the time for giving and opening presents has arrived. Getting just the right present for someone is quite a challenge and for the past few months stores have tried to attract us with what they think will be well received gifts.
One potential gift that seems to be sold everywhere are scented candles. Perhaps you have received one from a friend or given one to a family member yourself. They are a good option for presents because, after all, who doesn’t like a nice smell?
In preparation for Christmas stores stock up on specifically festive scents: cinnamon and orange evoke a Christmas feel; fresh pine gives you that Christmas tree smell; winter spice and other blends of odours are designed to get you into that festive spirit.
Those are all lovely scents, but I have a problem with them: that’s not what Christmas smells like. Spices and citrus fruits might seem like Christmas to us, but they aren’t really featured in the nativity story.
Have you every stopped to think what that first Christmas would have smelt like? A tired Mary and Joseph, having travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, probably would have benefitted from a bath or shower. Instead they rested with the animals, and you can imagine what kind of scent profile that would have offered!
The first Christmas would have been a riot of smells, not all of them pleasant. I don’t remember seeing department stores offering scented candles with the true smells of Christmas: ‘Wet donkey’, ‘Stale hay’, ‘Unwashed shepherd’
Those might be the true smells of Christmas, but they are also the wonder of Christmas. When God came to humanity he didn’t come to a clean, sanitised place far away from the reality of life. He came into the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life; he came into the mess and muck; he was laid in a smelly manger.
I hope your Christmas is a joyful and pleasant one, full of good scents and smells. But I hope we also celebrate that God didn’t wait for us to look or smell nice before he came to us, but he entered into our smelliness and came to meet us where we are.