Remember when Christmas was totally magical? When seeing the same old downtown decorations and hearing the same old elevator-version Christmas carols in every store and the thought of eating the same old food brought by the same old family members year after year after year brought excitement and anticipation and joy? Remember when wrapping presents was fun? I remember the first Christmas Eve Communion service I ever attended; it was in 1991 at Wesley United Methodist Church in Yakima, Washington. That evening was so magical and, for some reason, the message of Christ’s incarnation and the partaking of His memorial was overwhelming, so much so that I fell to my knees in gratitude and remember it well, 25 years later.
After nearly five decades of church, and Christmas, and the annual routine, however, all of it has become, well, just a little bit stale. I’m no longer a congregant sitting in awe; I’m a music leader who plays the same old carols year after year. The Sacrament that was so powerful to me a quarter-century ago is now commonplace and habitual. The story is the same; heck, out of so many options we have in the Gospel to read of the birth of Christ, even the Scripture passage is the same, every Christmas Eve, year after year after year. Christmas Eve comes, songs are sung, candles are lit, presents are opened, and bed is eagerly welcomed as Christmas Eve goes.
The sameness of it all is so apparent that it was mentioned in last night’s sermon. In the Episcopal Church, the Scriptures are studied in a 3-year cycle so that the entirety of the Bible is covered in that timespan. However, even in the presence of Matthew and John and even the beautiful poem in Philippians (2:5-11 if you care to look), Luke 2:1-20 remains the Christmas Eve Scripture year after year after year. Why? Because the story is so amazing, it bears repeating, and repeating, and repeating. The event is completely ordinary, but extraordinary; completely impossible, but possible; completely natural, but supernatural.
The magic is in the mundane. To the common onlooker, what would they have seen 2000 years ago? An impoverished couple unfortunate enough to have to bring their child forth in less-than-desirable circumstances. A band of shepherds fresh in from the fields (as if the stable wasn’t stinky enough already). Dirt, cold, and cramped quarters; anything but the cozy warmth we associate with new life. It wasn’t even mundane, it was mean, shabby, inferior.
But. But God. But the One who makes the impossible possible, the ordinary extraordinary, and who magically turns the mundane into the miraculous was in the middle of it all. And because of that, the ordinary, mundane, and impossible bits of my life are just as much a manger for His miracle as that manger 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. “Lord, that I may receive my sight” (Luke 18:41).
It’s almost time for resolutions and such. I stopped making those years ago; I can only barely take life one day at a time, much less set a goal for a whole year. But if I were to make a resolution, it would be to be more mindful of how my Father is working in the plain jane-ness of my life, to be faithfully vigilant as He exalts the humble to accomplish His will, in me and in those around me, to be thankful for whatever comes my way because I know that all of it is serving His purpose, even when I don’t necessarily understand what that purpose is. As I welcome Him into my day-to-day, mundane existence, He will turn the water of my life into wine.
This year, during Advent, I read Max Lucado’s book, Because of Bethlehem. He sums it up beautifully: “The moment Mary touched God’s face is the moment God made his case: there is no place he will not go. If he is willing to be born in a barnyard, then expect him to be at work anywhere – bars, bedrooms, boardrooms, and brothels. No place is too common. No person is too hardened. No distance is too far. There is no person he cannot reach. There is no limit to his love” (p. 135).
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.
(E.S. Elliot, 1864)