This morning, I’m preaching from the perspective of a pregnant, scared 13-year-old Mary (the age most scholars estimate she might have been at the time of the angel’s visit). While these great thoughts from John van de Laar did not make it into my sermon, I thought I’d share them as today’s post.
There are few places where our addiction to the extraordinary manifests more than in the Christmas story. It’s no wonder that Christmas has been co-opted by the forces of materialism and consumerism. It’s no wonder that we get so caught up in meaningless arguments about insignificant details and unimportant labels (is it a “Christmas tree” or a “Holiday tree”?). If Christmas is about a Special Baby being born to a Special Woman, then we are nothing more than passive observers of God’s supernatural activity, required to do nothing more than receive. Salvation is done to us. God’s Reign comes to us. And, in our passivity, we can find nothing more meaningful to do than fight for the small traditions and personal preferences that make us feel more open to God.
But Christmas is not about extraordinariness. On the contrary if it is about anything, it’s about the power of the ordinary to effect God’s purposes. Mary was not chosen to be the mother of Jesus because she was special. She was chosen because she was the epitome of ordinary. A young girl of marriageable age, living an ordinary life in an ordinary town in an ordinary country. There were probably hundreds of other girls who could easily have taken Mary’s place. The fact that God chose her probably had more to do with factors beyond her control – being engaged to a descendant of David, having relatives who were old and barren and of a priestly family – than with any special qualities that she possessed.
This ordinariness is, however, what makes the Christmas story so extraordinary. How could a commoner like this give birth to a child that would be both the fulfillment of God’s promise of an eternal dynasty to David, and God’s Son? How could the child that fulfilled these promises be born into such ordinary circumstances, grow up under such ordinary parents, and do such ordinary work (carpentry)? The answer, I believe is simply this: God’s Reign does not come through extraordinary people. God’s Reign stands or falls on ordinary people embracing it and living it out in their daily lives. The very essence of God’s Reign is that it infiltrates the smallest, most ordinary parts of the world, the tiniest details of our lives. In the same way that it is usually the ordinary people who shift the course of history, more than the generals and leaders and heroes who are remembered, it is the ordinary people who bring God’s Reign into being in the world.
Mary was not a unique human being who was uniquely chosen, and who we must simply watch and celebrate. No, Mary is all of us – ordinary, loved and called. We are all visited by God. We are all overshadowed by God’s Spirit. We are all parents of God’s Reign. Which means that it is time to stop using our addiction to the extraordinary to let ourselves off the hook. It is time for us all to accept the “calledness” of our ordinariness, and begin to give birth to God’s Reign in our own small way. It is time for us all to choose, daily, to bring Christ and the Reign of God that Christ revealed, into our world.