Sunday, 25 December 2016

the ordinary Christmas

I'm actually someone who really loves everything about this time of year. I love the decorations, even the cheesy ones. I love the lights and the music. I love the snow on the ground and just that general Christmassy feeling. However, in the midst of all the lights and decorations we can miss how ordinary that first Christmas actually was.

There was nothing special about when Jesus was born. Luke's biography of Jesus tells us that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because of a census that was being done by the Roman government. Nothing special was happening. It was just a bit of politics that I’m sure everyone was grumbling about. Imagine the Canadian government told everyone to return to the place of their birth for a particular day so they could count the citizens and figure out a calculation for taxes. That doesn’t sound like particularly holy timing for the birth of the Messiah.

Now if I was in charge, Jesus would have been born on Yom Kippur, which was the highest holy day in the Jewish year- the Day of Atonement. … Imagine, Joseph and Mary travel to Jerusalem for Yom Kippur. They stay with friends in Bethlehem, and then they can't make it to the temple services because Jesus (the one who will bring atonement- at-one-ment between us and God) is born just as the High priest is conducting the most holy ceremony on the Day of Atonement. But he wasn't, he was born on an ordinary day. The kind of day where you buy your groceries, go to work, clean the house, play with your kids, and have coffee with friends. That's the kind of day Jesus was born on.

Jesus was also born to an ordinary couple. He wasn't born to a king and queen. Or to a high priest and his wife. Mary was a young woman- a good Jewish girl. Joseph was a carpenter. Sure he has some royal blood, being from the family of King David. But perhaps that was relatively common in people whose families were from Bethlehem, the city of King David. Jesus was born to an ordinary couple. We wouldn't be able to pick them out of a crowd.

Jesus was born in an ordinary way. He wasn't transported down from heaven in a glowing beam of light. He was born… and there was pain, and pushing, and blood, and crying, and then hugging, and feeding, and then tears of joy when they realize he's healthy and that Mary will be okay. Jesus was born the way human babies are born.

Jesus was born in an ordinary kind of place. He wasn't born in a palace. He wasn't born in the temple. He wasn't born on Mt. Sinai where Moses received the law. … There is a long tradition about Jesus being born in a stable, but he was probably born in a one room home. There was no room for them in the guest room so they were welcomed to stay with the family in the one room where they lived. The animals had a space at the back of that room where they would stay at night. The family room would often have either a wooden manger or a dug out bowl in the floor which would be used to feed animals. Jesus was born in a place where people lived their lives- where they cooked, cleaned, ate, slept, and lived everyday life with those they loved. Jesus was born and swaddled and they placed him in an ordinary manger, a kind of feeding trough for the animals. The place of his birth was pretty ordinary.

There is a lot that is ordinary about the birth of Jesus. … But, there are some parts about his birth that are extraordinary. For one, there are angels. Angels are heavenly beings that are often messengers of heaven. Angels appear to tell about the birth of Jesus. … But who do they tell? The angels did not appear to the Roman Emperor. The angels didn't appear to King Herod. The angels didn't appear to the High Priest of the Temple. Who did the Angels appear to? Luke says (Lk 2:8-14),
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”"

This amazing angelic visitation was to shepherds - ordinary, bottom of the social ladder, run of the mill, shepherds.

We have this strange pairing of the ordinary and the extraordinary. An ordinary girl with an extraordinary pregnancy. Ordinary shepherds are visited by extraordinary angelic beings. This extraordinary child who is called Jesus (which means God Saves), and Immanuel (which means God-with-us), savior, and Lord- this extraordinary child is born, on an ordinary day, in an ordinary home, to an ordinary couple, and placed in an ordinary straw-filled manger used to feed ordinary animals. … Most people in Bethlehem went on with their day unaware that anything special happened.

And, I think that is how God wanted it. That is how God planned it. Because God works through the ordinary. That's what the incarnation is about- God working in the ordinary. "The Incarnation" is really just a big word for what the author C.S. Lewis described as “the author writing himself into the script of the play". Through the ordinary events of life- through the play that is life- God brings it about that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem belonging to the family of King David- just as the prophets foretold about the expected Messiah. God worked in the ordinary to bring about the extraordinary. God wrote himself into the play.

Jesus, the Son of God, (and mysteriously, God Himself,) lived as one of us. An ordinary life. He scraped his knee as a boy. He had friends and played. He learned from his parents. He grew up to be a carpenter like his father. … He didn't start his public preaching ministry until he was 30. Most of Jesus' life was lived in an ordinary way. That is what the incarnation is about- God enters the everyday ordinary-ness of human life as one of us. … That is what God wanted.

The teachings Jesus gave us were for how to live our ordinary lives in an extraordinary way. He didn’t just come to be our savior to bring us to heaven when we die. He came to teach us how to live in a heavenly way right here and now. That is what it means to follow Jesus. That is what it means to be a Christian- to learn to live everyday filled with God’s love. Allowing God to once again take on flesh through us- to act through us- to love through us. Jesus came to save us, yes, but he also came to show what it means to live saved lives. Through our ordinary lives God will bring about the extraordinary.

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