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Little Johnny was having a tough day in his fourth grade math class which ended with him standing toe-to-toe with his teacher who did not look at all pleased. Behind them was the blackboard covered with math problems that Johnny hadn’t been able to answer. The teacher stared down at Johnny with angry disappointment written across her face and declared, “Johnny, you are an underachiever.” With rare perception Johnny said, “I’m not an underachiever, you’re an overexpecter!”
On any given day you can read the news and discover that our world is fascinated with folks who are the famous and infamous. We want to know who the OKC Thunder are going to sign next to which celebrity is caught up in the latest scandal to what color Meghan Markle’s dress will be at the reception following the next royal wedding.
Unlike these news makers, the average man, woman or child simply fade into the background. The fella who put in the fifty hour work week, paid his bills on time, loved his wife, played with the kids, and helped with housework never makes the news. The single mom that works two jobs, sees to it that her child gets to school on time and has what they need is never going to be a story on CNN. And the fact that Little Johnny, after months of hard work, finally got that passing grade in math will never make the headlines.
We look at the world around us and we say that these folks up here are the ones that matter and these down here—that is, the rest of us—are not so significant in the great scheme of things. We don’t live in big cities, there are no paparazzi trying to take our pictures, and most likely, if we are going to have a seven digit income we are going to have to count the two numbers after the decimal point.
Unfortunately we have a tendency to look at our life with God in the same way. We look at the folks like St. Francis and Mother Teresa, the Popes and the Bishops, those rare saintly priest, and we think that as far as the things of God are concerned, those are the ones that really matter. As far the rest of us… we’re not so significant in the eyes of God. If God is going to move, to reveal himself it will be through one of them, not through one of us.
“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…” The angel of the Lord did not come to kings, presidents, Lady Gaga or any other celebrities. The angel did not come to the Emperor, the Roman governor, the Temple leaders, or any of the movers and shakers during that time to announce the birth of the Lord. The angel of the Lord came to sheep herders. Sheep herders! The Mishnah—the interpretation of Jewish law—refers to shepherds as incompetent and goes on to say that you are not obligated to save one if you see that they’ve fallen into a pit. “To buy wool, milk or a kid from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property.” There status was the equivalent of a tax collector, which—to show you how low that was—was equivalent to those whose job it was to sweep up the dung in the streets. This is who the birth of the Lord was announced!
What do we know about this Jesus who these sheep herders went to see? He was born in an obscure village in an obscure country. The child of a peasant woman, he grew up in another small village. He worked as a carpenter for most of his life with only three years as an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book, had an office, or even a cell phone. He never had a family or owned a home. Never went to college or to a big city. For that matter he never traveled more than two hundred miles from where He was born. Yet the world has never been the same.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “God becomes human out of love for humanity. God does not seek the most perfect human being with whom to be united, but takes on human nature as it is.” As it is.
During this season of Advent we have been talking about the Incarnation. God becoming flesh. And we have talked about living Incarnational lives, that is, continually putting flesh on God in this world. Making Him known through word and actions. But so often we mistakenly think that in order to do this we must be some kind of super Christian, leading the perfect, sinless life, but that’s not the case. God used a young girl. A Carpenter. Shepherds. Fishermen. Tax collectors. Prostitutes. For crying out loud God even used a dead guy – Lazarus. These were ordinary people living ordinary lives and they too changed the world. The baby lying in the manger was not born for ivory towers and silver tea sets. He was born for hearts like theirs. He was born for a heart like yours.
The angel of the Lord said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people… for all 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.” The manger where Christ was born existed 2,000 years ago and it exists today, but today that manger is not in some far off land. Today, that manger is within you. It is within each and everyone of you… as you are.
Scripture says, “One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘When will the Kingdom of God come?’ Jesus replied, ‘The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is within you.’” The Kingdom of God, the manger, the place where God desires to be born is within you. It is within you so that he might be made known to you and to the world.
We may never be the movers and shakers of the world who change the course of history, but in the eyes of God we are worth so much more. In the eyes of God, we are worth more than life itself and He desires to be joined to us… born within you. There was no room for him at the inn, but there is a manger within your heart? Allow the Christ Child to be born there.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” Amen.