“Where Ordinary and Extraordinary Collide”
Christmas Eve 2014
Did you get all your decorating done? Did you make everything extra-special this year? Was this a year you went out of your way to make Christmas extraordinary, for you and whomever else you’re celebrating with? You know, it’s amazing what you can buy to get ready for Christmas! Candle companies have really cashed in on our need to decorate and involve all the senses in our celebrations. They seem able to manufacture and capture in wax any kind of emotion or idea—there are scents called “Christmas Memories” and “White Christmas” (a scent we might be wishing for this year!) and even “Home for the Holidays”! Who knew you could bottle all that and sell it?! But we do a lot to make our holiday experiences extraordinary, don’t we? We might find some soft music to play in the background, while people gather and eat. We may set up our nativity scenes so that all the characters are placed just so, looking on in love and wonder at the beautiful newborn baby in the manger. Doesn’t it make you feel good, just to think about it?! There’s just something we really enjoy about making these ordinary, dark winter days feel extraordinary, with all our holiday trappings.
When I read the gospel of Luke, I wonder sometimes about how ordinary so much of the story and so many of the characters were. I’m thinking about making my own Christmas scented candle collection, with scents such as “Shepherd,” “Sheep,” “Manger,” and “Labor and Delivery.” Those might not be top sellers, though…It seems like sometimes we want to forget just how ordinary the birth of Christ was, in many ways. Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem—and Luke doesn’t actually tell us about any inn or innkeeper, or that Mary really had the baby right away when they got there, no matter what our traditions say. Perhaps they’d been staying in the crowded home of a distant relative and there was no room in the guestroom (what the actual Greek word means). The story doesn’t mention animals, just a manger—probably in a part of the house where animals were fed and kept at times, but maybe not on this particular day. We just don’t know. They were so ordinary, these people from Galilee—and probably poor; definitely unknown to most of the world. We like to make the story seem peaceful and serene, sterile and idyllic, warm and fuzzy. But, well, it kind of wasn’t. It was just…ordinary.
Then there were shepherds. Right about the time Mary and Joseph had gotten situated, trying to figure out what to do with this new baby that they had to set in the feed trough because there was no cradle, here came some shepherds. (Let’s imagine what that smelled like!) Nobody had invited them—not Mary, not Joseph, not anybody else who might have been there for the birth (though scripture doesn’t even mention a midwife or anybody helping with the delivery). The shepherds were ordinary riff-raff, hustling through the streets of Bethlehem, looking for a sign they’d been told to go and find. That’s just weird! (In my humble opinion, smelly strangers are not who you want to see just after you’ve had a baby!)
But with the entrance of the shepherds, we get to the more-than-ordinary part of the event. You see, God didn’t send out a lot of invitations to this party. Very few people even realized anything extraordinary was happening on that particular night in Bethlehem. With all the ordinariness of the mother and father, of the shepherds and sheep, of the humble manger, there was also something cosmically extraordinary going on. It wasn’t a silent night—not by any stretch of the imagination! It wasn’t peaceful and serene. I imagine Mary did not have on a clean, pressed, pristine blue gown, like we so often picture her. Joseph probably did not just look on in angelic wonder—at least, not after Mary told him to help her out. The child, if he was like everybody else’s child, probably did not just chill in the manger, cooing softly and looking cherubic. The shepherds were not clean-cut and well-groomed.
So, no, it was not a silent night, in the house where Mary and Joseph were. But it was also not a silent night out there in the fields, where we might most expect it to be so. There was no soft instrumental music playing. The ground was hard. The sheep smelled bad. The night was dark. Ordinary. Earthy. The way we expect things to be. Then, BAM! Ordinary and extraordinary collided in a huge, magnificent, and maybe even scary way—right there, before the shepherds’ eyes! Suddenly, they were invited into a story that nobody saw coming, save for Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and John (though he was still an infant, himself). Everybody else who had met up with an angel already knew something was up, but that’s it. There was no other warning. Suddenly, before the shepherds’ eyes, there was an angel, who scared them half to death (probably nothing like any of the angels that are hanging on your Christmas tree right now!)! The angel gave them a crazy message, then the whole sky was filled with angels singing—how raucous must that have been? It’s no wonder the shepherds left their sheep, is it?! An ordinary night suddenly became extraordinary, and they had to do something—they had to go and see this thing, which the Lord had made known to them! They had to go and see! Nothing would be quite the same again, when ordinary and extraordinary collided, right there, in the middle of the sky, over some lonely sheep pastures outside of Bethlehem!
So we come together on this ordinary night—on a date we have chosen and set aside to celebrate the birth of the most extraordinary baby ever born. We have done our best to make the day extraordinary—we may have gone to great lengths to do so, and we may have made our own traditions, tried to gather as much family around us as possible, held back nothing for this celebration. Perhaps we are right to do so. It is truly the most extraordinary story, brought to us by the most ordinary people. Why not make the day special? Why not spend time sharing the good news of great joy, which shall be to all people? Why not celebrate this moment where ordinary and extraordinary collide to bring us the news that salvation has come?
Let us celebrate, then! We may not have been one of the first whom God invited into the story. In some ways, we are the last to receive invitations into the story of Christmas. But indeed, that baby placed in a feed trough has become our bread—the bread of life. That baby born so lowly has become our Lord and King. And Christ invites us now to join in the story—to join in the feast—to celebrate the newborn King and the King who will come again, as we gather at his table, where ordinary and extraordinary collide, where bread and wine become body and blood, where grace is poured out freely and salvation is what’s on the menu. Come, join the feast. Your invitation has come!