Finding God in the Ordinary
Then he was wrapped in swaddling rags in the dark night. The only glitz and glam known to him and his parents were the stars that twinkled and shined brightly in the night sky.
If you’ll allow me to contemporize the experience, I imagine the expectation would look something like this today. The Messiah is born at the Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins or any fine hospital you may know. He is rushed from delivery with his mother and meets his father in a private suite with private duty nurses attending to their every need. Immediately after the birth, he is clothed in the finest of pure cotton and he is coddled by his personal nurse. After the birth is announced publicly, presidents, kings and statesmen begin sending the finest gifts to the babe. Gifts of gold, silver, the finest linen and more. All is well.
But the contemporary reality would look more like this. The young single parents are poor and have no health insurance. They begin to travel hoping to get assistance from a midwife, but Mary is overcome with contractions and they cannot find a place to stay. Circumstances force her and Joseph to give birth in an abandoned tenement among the homeless and a few stray animals.
Wow! Who could imagine a king born in an abandoned building in the inner city? I know I would be skeptical. If he’s a king, why doesn’t he have any money? Where’s his entourage? He’s going to do what for us? Change the government and set us free? I don’t think so!
It’s challenging to believe that a king would be born that way. After all, we live in a world that constantly feeds us images of greatness while demonizing the poor. In fact, everywhere we look we get the message that whatever we’ve got and whoever we are, we should be more, have more and do more. We despise anything that’s ordinary. We’re just socialized that way. We don’t want a good, reliable Hyundai, that’s just too ordinary. We want the Tessler, Lexus or Mercedes. We don’t want to shop at Marshall’s. Marshall’s is just too ordinary. We want to shop Barney’s or Saks on Fifth.
This is what compels us to look for God in Cathedrals and beautiful edifices. We look for God in well-dressed people with titles and positions in the church. We look for God in anything that appears to be big, high and lofty. We look for God in the strong, not the weak. Of course, this is nothing new. The prophet Elijah was no different. He thought that God was in a great and strong wind that tore the mountains, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind it was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake it was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire and after the fire there was a still small voice and that is how he encountered the Almighty God, in something as ordinary as a wee, small voice.
We are constantly striving for greatness; to be exceptional. We want to exceed the ordinary in one way or another and yet, in all our striving to get the best of everything we cannot escape the ordinary. Maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Yeah, that’s right, maybe we’ve got it all wrong. I know we’ve been seeking the extraordinary for a long, long time. Some of us have been seeking the elegant and enchanting all our lives. But, what if, we missed something? Something major? Something transformative? Yet, something so simple? What if we have really missed God?
Contrary to our expectations, God is attracted to weakness, fragility, to the underdog, to the ordinary. Somehow, we just don’t see it. The Apostle Paul shared with us his own experience in 2 Corinthians 12. He wanted to find God’s power in a miraculous healing. He wanted to be rid of the “thorn” in his flesh. This thorn sent Paul into fervent prayer. I imagine he begged, and he pleaded and begged and pleaded until he made an unexpected discovery. He found that God’s power is best seen in our weaknesses. In other words, Paul found out that the Divine shows up in extraordinary ways in ordinary situations. That’s grace.
God has a habit of showing up in ordinary things. A Glorious Savior was born in an ordinary manger. He showed up at a wedding and turned water into wine. God showed up at funeral for a window’s only son and brought him back to life. He shows up in ordinary things. In the communal bread and wine, God shows up! For wherever two or three are gathered, he is in the midst.
So, this Advent season, if we are to find him, maybe we should look for Jesus in the ordinary. Like the prostitute on a city street or the drug dealer on the corner. Maybe you can find him in your neighbor who doesn’t have a green card or speak your language. Maybe you can find him in the hungry and homeless or the lonely and the elderly. I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint the who, the when or the where but what I do know for sure, if you are looking for God; if you are seeking the face of Christ, you will find him in some ordinary people, places and things. After all, He showed up at Simon’s house for dinner one day. He showed up just as they prepared to stone a woman and after they pronounced Lazarus dead. He showed up at a cross and died the death of a common, ordinary criminal and he got up in three days so he could show up in you and me.
Wise people are still seeking Christ. He has a habit of showing up in ordinary place. As you prepare for the holidays and all they bring, I hope you find him. Merry Christmas!