December 24, 2023. Sermon Title: God Meets Us in the Ordinary

First Mennonite Church

December 24, 2023

God Meets Us in the Ordinary

Text: Luke 2:1-20

We, church people, know this story almost by heart, word for word. And so, I wonder, what can I tell you today that you have not heard? What surprises can this well-known story still hold for us? Every year around this time, elements about this story abound around us in various visual or audible forms: Nativity scenes inside and outside of churches, Christmas carols, children’s Christmas plays, Christmas cards we receive or send, and so forth. The Christmas story has become as familiar as our everyday routines.

You see, possibly, one of the reasons for this familiarity with the Christmas story is the way Luke tells it. He narrates the account giving us vivid images of how the events unfolded. From the larger setting of imperial decree to the very intimate and private information about Mary. After everything had been said and done regarding angels, shepherds, and the identity of the baby, Luke tells us, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” 

Again, another feature of Luke’s brilliance in telling the story is the hard-to-miss contrasts there are in it. On the one hand, there was Caesar Augustus and Quirinius who were rulers of the world and who believed they were responsible for maintaining and enforcing order in the world. It was within their powers to issue decrees that affected everyone’s life, including of those in backwater towns like Nazareth. On the other hand, there were Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds who were mere peasants and those of the lowest rung in the social and economic ladder, respectively. They only followed the rules imposed on them, regardless of their life situations. As seen in the story, Mary and Joseph were forced to improvise, doing what they needed to do and doing it with whatever was available to them. Mary saw an animal feeding box and saw in it what she needed to lay her baby in. She wrapped the baby in strips of cloth, how and where did she get those? Speaking of improvisation, in an era of e-commerce, Google, and Amazon, the genius of improvisation is being lost. Today, we can find on the internet just anything we need for everything we can ever want. Just one example: people in the past scratched their itching back on walls, posts, or trees. Today you can find back scratchers of every kind. Today, we don’t want just the basics, we want the fancy version of things. We want the proper tool for every job.

But the greatest of all contrasts happens in the realm of the Divine. According to the angels, the baby is no common baby, although being born like any baby. This baby is the Savior. He is the long-awaited Messiah. And, He is the Lord, a title reserved for Yahweh alone, the Almighty God. Yet, the baby was born in so lowly a place, in the routine events of another ordinary day, and catching his parents in a less-than-perfect situation.

And that is one of the mysteries of God. He meets us in the commonness of the routine of our lives. That was exactly how Jesus, the Emmanuel—God is with us, came. The world and its powerful leaders were carrying out business in their usual way, yet without knowing God was working his way too. As the Apostle Paul says, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem” the world. (Galatians 4:4, 5). Caesar Augustus did not know the implications of the decree he was issuing, requiring all peoples to go to their ancestral towns to be registered. Caesar Augustus was only concerned about having the world censused so he would know how much taxes he would collect. He did not care who had to travel long distances or what their physical conditions were. His decree dictated that everybody should get moving in obedience to his command.

It’s in that world, like our very own world, where the powerful go about their day, enacting policies that affect the lives of the common people. Yet again, it is in that world where “God’s peace comes to those on whom his favor rests.” But as the Evangelist John says, speaking about Jesus, “He came to his own, but his own did not receive him.” The rejection Jesus suffered from his people, in part had to do with the way came—from humble parents and a town of little importance. Jesus was not born in Jerusalem and his family was not one of the important priestly households. He came through a peasant couple in the town of Bethlehem and was born in a stable. He spent much of his time with the common people. Yet, again, that is how God comes to meet us. He comes to us in the most ordinary ways. He comes to us, when we are at home, on the road, while feeding our pets, while tending our sick loved ones, or trying to recover ourselves from a cold. God comes to us as we try to make do and improvise on what we must do to live. God comes by our side when we are doing the things that give us pleasure or out of duty. He comes to us in the spaces where we find ourselves at home or those we rather not be. He is present with us when we are well satisfied or when we are struggling to make ends meet. His approach to us is not dramatic, to awaken us from the numbing routine of our daily lives. He comes to us, not with a thunderous voice so that we can hear him from above the din of the outside world or noise from inside of our very busy minds and hearts. He approaches us gently and quietly hoping that we would be fine-tuned to hear his whisper of love.

God is the one who fills your heart with satisfaction when you are doing those things that bring you enjoyment. So, give him thanks for the things that give you joy. It is the Lord who sustains you through the things you routinely have to do, so praise him for his faithfulness in giving you strength one day at a time. Remember too, you are God’s hands as you take care of the sick, therefore offer yourself to be used to his glory, for it is through you that his presence and healing is made present. It is God’s power that is at work in you as you heal or find inner strength in your weakness, thus thank Him for his mercy and faithfulness.

It is in finding God’s presence in the routine of our daily lives that we are transformed without noticing it. In Luke’s story, first, it was the heavenly hosts who were praising and glorifying God, thus they said:

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

But once the angels were gone, the shepherds were saying to one another, “Let us go and see what has been told to us by the angels.” So, they hurried off and witnessed the most ordinary of scenes: Mary, Joseph, and a tiny baby wrapped in bands of cloth and sleeping in an animal feeding box. Yet, all that they saw was confirmation of what they had been told. And the Christmas story ends with these words: The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Shepherds were despised people; they were considered thieves. They belonged to the lowest of the social class; they were the least of the ordinary folks. Yet, after witnessing God’s very own presence in the humblest of all places and people, they sang the angelic song as well, even without realizing it. They returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen! And most certainly, God accepted their praise and glory.

My dear sisters and brothers, let me tell you: God’s favor rests on you, therefore God’s peace is yours regardless of what is happening around or with you or in you. If it is true that Jesus’ people rejected him, John also testifies: But to those who receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave them power to become children of God. You are God’s children too. He is here today.

Last Sunday, after the service I went to greet the gentleman who came after the service had started. I guess because I mentioned something about the Great Indian Desert in my sermon and or because of my accent, he asked me, “Which Indian language do you also speak?” I said none, only Spanish, English, and American Sign Language. “O,” he said. “You know,” he continued, “I like this place. It is inviting to the lowly and humble. But you know who would not come here because of it, rich people. Rich people will not feel this is enough for them.”

If his assessment is true, as for me, there are two things I want to assure you: first, I give thanks to the Lord for each one of you who are here. Two: Christ meets us here. So, let us only keep open the eyes of our spirit to see the presence of God here and in our daily routine. We will be transformed. And we too, will sing God’s praises and glories for the things he will show us in the routine of our lives. Amen!

Have a blessed and joyful Christmas!

Pastor Romero