December 24, 2017 – Christmas Eve
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
Welcome, brothers and sisters in Christ, to the birth of Emmanuel, God with us. This is the day in which we celebrate the incarnation of God, the enfleshing of the divine amidst the ordinary. This is the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. In this story, we get to see the ordinary and extraordinary mingling together and, perhaps, realizing that the two aren’t all that different. We get to see that God is working through the normal, the regular, and the mundane things of this world and showing us that miracles are often commonplace things that haven’t been appreciated yet.
We enter into this scene and see a dank, dingy manger, a barn filled with livestock and filth. We see a city overrun with visitors, there to take a census. We see pregnant woman, riding upon a donkey, and her fiancé walking close beside. Even step of that donkey must have made her wince as her 9-months pregnant body endured the trip. Every mile must have stretched out like a desert before them. They had travelled this way for 80 miles. Joseph must have wondered if they’d make it to Bethlehem before this child would be born.
He had almost divorced her, you know. He found out that Mary was pregnant and he was ready to leave her, but an angel appeared and told him not to. This child was special, this baby was different, even though he’d be born in a usual way. And whether the angel came in the form of a man with a robe and wings, a vivid dream, or a voice so small you barely notice it, Joseph had listened. So, here they were, traveling. In an ordinary way. To visit an ordinary place.
But if we learn anything from this story it’s that there is no such thing as ordinary. All things are made amazing by God’s presence and love. A barn that people would avoid if they could, would become a destination for shepherds and angels. A normal feeding trough would become a holy cradle. An ordinary birth would become the entry of a new king in the world. And in the presence of God, an unwitting, unwed couple would soon wrap and cradle in their arms the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, Emmanuel, Jesus.
There is no such thing as typical in the presence of God. This ordinary birth to a little, baby boy would prove to be the redeeming of the world to God. God, come down to this earth, has redeemed it and all of creation. Jesus would grow to become a boy, then a teenager, then a man. He would learn and study, become a carpenter, and then a preacher, and then a martyr. He would die, but then rise again. This man Jesus would be extraordinary, even when all signs would point to ordinary. And if God can do all of this with such normal things, what, then, can God not do?
The greatest injustices in the world have been done when people mistake the extraordinary for the ordinary. When something is ordinary, it is of no real value. When the world around us become mundane, we abuse, pollute, and degrade it. When someone is boring or typical, they are replaceable, nameless, and not worth caring about. But there is no such thing as normal, boring, or mundane when God in involved and I want you to hear something: You are not ordinary. You are extraordinary.
This baby, born nearly 2000 years ago in a barn in modern day Palestine, shows us that there is no such thing as ordinary. The stable becomes more than a barn – it becomes a palace. The manger becomes more than a feeding trough – it becomes a throne. The shepherds become more than common laborers – they become the very first witnesses of God’s abundant love and presence in the world.
This continues today. The common is always amazing. Bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Water comes a sign of adoption and the Holy Spirit. Common people become the body of Jesus on this earth. And you, as ordinary as you think you are, become a beloved child.
I know that this time of year can be difficult for people. There are thousand things to do, a million places to be, and a ton of pressure to feel giddiness beyond belief. There is untold pressure to be ecstatic and elated, grateful for everything we know. But the reality is that this is a day that can leave us feeling disappointment, shame, fear, or sorrow. In many ways, this can feel like an ordinary day. It can feel like any other day. And, I suppose, it is. It is an ordinary day, but it, like every such day, is extraordinary. It holds within it the chance to see God at work, and God is at work.
God is at work redeeming creation, recreating and bringing forth a new kingdom of love, justice, and peace. In the midst of all that we experience and know, there is not one thing that is left untouched. There is no such thing as ordinary because, in the presence of God, all things are made holy. And I assure that God is in our midst at this very moment. The Holy Spirit is moving throughout this place, made of ordinary stone. The Holy Spirit is moving throughout this gathering, made of ordinary people. The Holy Spirit is moving throughout your life, made of ordinary experiences. And God is redeeming all of it.
Because Jesus was born in a common way, the common is uncommon. God loves the mundane and chose to enter the world in the way we all did. There is no experience we can face that Jesus has not faced already and that Jesus does not face with us. But I assure you that, by the grace of God, there is nothing on this earth that God sees as ordinary. You are extraordinary in God’s sight. You are saved by the grace of God, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit. You are redeemed by this baby boy, wrapped in rags, sleeping in a trough, sharing the first hours of his life with animals and shepherds, angels and his parents, and none of it would be ordinary anymore. This is the beginning. This is the birth of Jesus, the Christ. O come, let us adore him. Amen.