Christmas is an exciting time. There are lights and trees and ornaments. There are movies and plays – manger scenes and big celebrations. There is food…oh wow, is there food! It’s a big time for many of us. We are celebrating many things in our country and around our world, but for those of us today, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. I’m grateful for the celebration – but Jesus’ birth was not quite the same type of celebration. It was quite ordinary. There really wasn’t anything all that remarkable. If anything, it was as ordinary as ordinary can be. We think of it as anything but ordinary, but as Luke explains, the events were typical and quite unimpressive. That is, it was an odd birthday.
Luke 2:4-7 – Luke tells this as if it is unremarkable. They are being taxed – that was stinky even back then. They are away from home and apparently Joseph was either not a great planner or a man short on funds and influence. Can you imagine how that conversation with Mary must have gone – “no, I don’t have a place for you to sleep – yes, I know you are very, very pregnant – no, I don’t have any way to get us a better place – yes, I have learned my lesson by not getting here earlier and asking for directions so we could have had a better place to stay – yes, dear, I get it, I messed up.” In his defense, it couldn’t have been easy to travel with a woman who was 9 months pregnant – can you imagine how many times they had to stop for her to go to the bathroom? Now, I don’t know how it all went but we do know they end up wherever they could sleep for the night. The baby was born among the animals. Mary wrapped him up as any new mother would do – the best she could. It is told as if it just happened. Boom – a baby was born. No big deal. Except this was a big deal. This was a huge deal. This was a life changing deal. But it was as if no one knew about it. God kept it under wraps – or hay as it seems. The story doesn’t end there, though. Actually, the story has just begun.
Luke 2:8-20 – All of a sudden, Luke takes a turn. He takes the scene from watching Mary and Joseph to a place on a hillside with shepherds. The most common, ordinary folks with an all but ordinary experience. There are angels, there is singing, and there are messages to go. All of the things we would expect with God’s Son being born. It is the shepherds who get the message. And they are the ones who show up. They get to experience the gift. They get to see the baby. They bring a message of reassurance to a new mother and father who are in a very different place than they would have thought or planned. None of this was in their plans as they had discussed marriage and kids.
What’s missing from the story? I want to know – Where are the parades and the processionals? Where are the lights, the fireworks, the royal announcements? Jesus is born – doesn’t anyone else get it? The place is so packed that Mary and Joseph don’t get a spot. There are so many people around. There are people who pass by. Yet, no one really gets it. A woman has a baby – well, that’s fairly ordinary. That’s actually an extraordinary miracle we have made ordinary because, for us, we lose the miraculous when there are approximately 256 births per minute in the world. Birth is a part of the life cycle. So we often miss the miracle of it all. A young woman and her beloved are gathered just like everyone else and she has a baby – okay, so what? Did no one get the significance? Did everyone just pass by?
We do know of a few who got it. But it wasn’t from the royalty. It wasn’t the religious elite. It wasn’t those who just knew they had the Messiah’s coming all figured out. They were on the watch and it happened right in front of them. They missed it. It was, instead, those who were willing to listen and see. It was those who were open to a message that was very different than they had ever imagined. It was those who had willing hearts and open minds to approach a lowly stable to find a baby that would be the Messiah. God chose shepherds because shepherds were willing to pay attention. They were open to the miracle of God. They had not decided what God could do and how God would do it. They had not already placed God in the nice, neat box of their own narrow minds. They were not the most educated or the most wealthy. They did not have the same knowledge as the religious leaders – those trained to tell people what to do to be holy. They were common. But the trait I see is they were willing.
What an odd birthday for the Savior of the world – not even cake and candles adorned the place. There wasn’t even a clean hospital room. But it really sets the tone for Jesus’ entire life. It really helps us to understand who Jesus is. When we start with his birth, we begin to see this is no ordinary life. What seems so mundane is actually about to change the world forever. Jesus goes on throughout his life to make a difference in the lives of the ordinary, the willing. He heals those who have faith – not because they are taught the right ways but because they are desperate for God’s love. They hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those are the ones who become children of God. It is those who don’t have it all figured out and don’t decide what God can and cannot do – or will or will not do. God has come to those who do not always understand why things happen and why life has to be so very hard. God has come to the questioners, the inquisitive, the seekers, and the completely clueless. God sent Jesus because so many thought they had it all figured out and Jesus shattered all of those thoughts.
Jesus’ beginning was the beginning of a change in it all – everything they knew (frankly, everything we think we know). We celebrate the birth of Jesus – but do we really want him to change us? Do we really want him to show up and turn our world in an upheaval to be able to see him? Do we really want him to remind us he is so much more than we have him figured out to be? Are we ready to understand we don’t have all the answers, we don’t have it all figured out and we don’t know all about him?
I was raised in church. My parents have always been really active. They did all the church things – they taught Sunday School, led the youth, cooked for the events, served on the boards. When I was 18 years old, my Dad became a pastor – maybe between raising me and my brother, he thought his prayer life was as good as it was going to get and he was ready for ministry. I had the upbringing. I knew who God was. I got it. I won the Sunday School awards and could name the beatitudes. I knew the books of the Bible. I went to youth group and sang the songs. I had the history. What I realized as I grew up was I had been given just enough to scratch the surface – I didn’t really know anything at all. And sure, I have a doctorate now. Guess what? I am still learning and growing and trying to figure it out – one small piece at a time – still scratching the surface. I am still trying to understand and be open to see God at work.
Here’s what I don’t want to happen. I don’t want to miss what God is doing because I see only the ordinary. I don’t want to miss where God is showing up because I have already decided how he works. I don’t want to go through my life and completely miss the miracles he puts right in front of me – even if they seemingly happen all the time. I don’t want this to be just another Christmas or another birthday for Jesus. Think about it – maybe we miss God because we are expecting to see him in places we have decided he will show up – in ways we expect him to appear. Maybe we are like those first travelers who passed right by the birth of Jesus and missed it because there was no way the Messiah could be born there…to them…on that day. Instead, I want to be like the shepherds – a willing heart realizing I don’t need to have it all figured out but simply be eager to learn. I can’t do that if I don’t listen – really listen to the angels sing – to the trees clap – to the mountains proclaim. I can’t really learn if I have decided I know it all. We will miss him if we are not seeking him.
So here is where I land this Christmas – God is love. Love was born and because that love is so profound, there was no fanfare needed. This love would radiate far beyond that manger in the stable that day. This love would begin to flood the entire world in new light. This love would change lives like never before. This love is changing mine – how about you? Do you hear what I hear?