Christmas cards with halos over each member of the Holy Family, plastic nativity sets sold in mass and angelic choirs singing Christmas carols can lead us to forget something important. The miraculous events surrounding God’s physical arrival on earth took place in an ordinary space in time; much like where you and I live in each day.
Imagine with me how the circumstances of Jesus’ birth may have felt to those living in them:
Mary shifted on the rough woollen blanket between her aching body and the cold floor. She tried to remember how her mother instructed her to breathe through the painful contraction rolling over her abdomen.
Joseph reassured her with a look of confidence mingled with compassion. The contraction passed; Mary uttered a prayer of thanks for this man so full of faith. Had she been matched with another; she likely would be alone for this birth. Over the past months, she watched Joseph grow into the role of her protector when whispers swirled about her growing belly. Continually he reminded her of the angel’s words in each of their appearances: “Don’t be afraid . . .”
Mary pushed for so long she feared she would have no strength to hold her newborn. Then, panic hovered over her as the baby’s head crowned, and the pain ignited into an intensity she had never experienced.
One more big push, Joseph’s dark eyes grew wide––the baby whooshed from her body. The shriek of a cry cut through the night. Tears of relief and joy streamed down the teenager’s face. She had survived it! This precious, mysterious baby is safely in her arms. Her fingers shaking while she wrapped his red, quivering body in strips of cloth. Joseph caressed the tiny head of this son who was not his own and quietly repeated the angel’s instructions: “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Mary giggled when Joseph gently placed the tiny baby in a manger. It was the perfect crib. Never would she have chosen to be in this place so far from home on her baby’s birthday, but God’s presence filled her with peace.
A short time later, Mary startled awake. Her eyes struggled to adjust in the dim firelight. Someone was knocking at the door. Her eyes darted to the manger. Her little One was sleeping soundly. She shook Joseph awake; there was another knock.
Who could it be in the middle of the night? A hoard of common looking men stood at the door Joseph opened. The oldest among them apologized for disturbing them and explained how the appearance of angels had astonished them in the field where they were watching sheep.
“The angel said a Savior has been born tonight, and he told us not to be afraid. . .” his gravelly voice trailed off and his eyes landed on the manger holding the baby.
Upon hearing those familiar words, Joseph looked to Mary for approval, and she nodded.
“He said we would find him in a manger,” exclaimed one of the youngest; awestruck.
The shepherds left praising God for what He had revealed to them. Mary was too wide awake to go back to sleep. She brushed her chin over the downy head of baby Jesus, asleep on her chest, her heart brimming with emotion. So young, she could barely take in all that had happened over the past months. This time last year, she was feeling both relieved and anxious to be newly betrothed to Joseph. Relieved, because she could tell he was kind, though she did not know him well. Her nervousness stemmed from fear of not being an adequate wife. Forgetful, she was ever burning bread. Her sister’s basket weaving was exceptional, and she wished her fingers could produce the same. Mary was not the most beautiful girl in Nazareth. Would Joseph be happy with her?
Everything became a blur after the angel appeared to her. The thought of mothering the Son of the Most High was beyond her ability to take on. The angel said Yahweh favored her, but she felt ordinary and unqualified. It was her awe of God which enabled her to accept what He was doing through her life. Mary had the gift of faith.
His Ways Aren’t Ours
There was not a parade announcing the pregnancy for Mary nor was the magnitude of what was happening noticed by many people. God did not send the spectacular angel display to royalty, but to the lowest of the low. One would think more would believe in Jesus if someone important experienced His arrival. Surely those with significant influence could spread the message more effectively than shepherds. Apparently, God wasn’t seeking influence or platform as a part of His rescue plan for humankind. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9, ESV)
Virtually every Judean town had a synagogue where students were learning, discussing, and arguing the miniscule details of the law. How strange none of them recognized the luminous star placed in the sky, pointing to the act of God descending upon the world in human form. It took some curious, wise men from hundreds of miles away to understand the remarkable was happening in human history. God often shows up in small, common places and does mighty things left unobserved by individuals not paying attention. The fact so many missed the Messiah’s coming makes me ask: “How can I keep from missing God at work in the world today?”
Seeking God First
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:46-50, ESV)
Mary held a proper view of herself: a humble servant. Her dreams, marriage and safety were all at stake when she said: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, ESV)
Out of the blue, a messenger of God Almighty made it plain He had an uncommon plan for her ordinary life, and she did not filter it through her personal desires. “What about me?” was not a concern of hers. “Surrendered” is the criteria which made Mary ready to step into one of the most important callings God has ever given a human being. When we pry our fingers off our plans, priorities, and our selfishness, we are ready to see and take on the amazing plan God has for us.
Seeking God’s Strength
Mary did not have extraordinary opportunities, training, or wealth but her view of God was based upon the truth of His Word. In her song in Luke 1, she verbalizes how she saw the Lord as the One who rescues, the One who bestows strength and the One who “lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:52, NIV) Her spirit of absolute trust in the Lord enabled Mary to accept the miraculous, sacred move God was making on planet earth and she was willing to be a part of it.
A.W. Tozer said, “To see God does not narrow one’s life, rather it brings it to the level of highest possible fulfilment.” It is not in keeping with today’s humanistic worldview to look to God to as our source of strength. Culture has conditioned us to solve our own problems, go after what we want and to muscle our way through struggles. The Apostle Paul shared the secret of his strength: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (II Corinthians 2:9, ESV) Leaning into our Heavenly Father and keeping our eyes fixed on Him keeps us in a place where we can see Him in our life because we know His power is at work through us and not our own hustle.
Seeking God as the Source of a Fulfilled Future
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16, ESV)
No matter who you are or what your place in this world looks like, these words are true of you. When I appropriate the knowledge my Creator has a plan for every single day of my life, I can suddenly see the Divine in every single day of my life.
Acts 9 tells the story of Tabitha’s impact on her community through the love she put into every stitch she sewed. In a time when women were undervalued, when she dies, everyone feels they can’t go on without her and Peter is sent for and raises her from the dead. The supernatural invades when an ordinary lady is loving big through the talents God created in her.
A businesswoman, named Lydia, worshipped, and prayed to a God she didn’t know much about. In a vision, God directed Paul to go to Macedonia where she lived. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” (Acts 16:14, NIV) Because she sought God, He made Himself known to her.
God entered the world through Mary, and He wants to do the same through you and me. It doesn’t mean you will speak to crowds, establish a non-profit or write books. It may; He calls people into those places. But more importantly, God desires to come through the ordinary of your life. A kind word to a stranger whose toddler is throwing a fit can be a gift of grace God is calling you to give. When you hug your child and tell them how special God created them, you are implanting in them their supernatural worth and purpose. Loving your teenager when they are wearing a rotten attitude is a self-sacrifice that will bear gracious dividends down the road.
Look around your community and ask God where He is at work. Are there people in need of food, friendship, or love? Ask God to show you what He wants you do to with your one, invaluable life. He will show up, give strength and work through you amid your ordinary.
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, ESV)