Christmas Eve Message: Ordinary Day and Extraordinary Hope

It was just an ordinary day in the City of Bethlehem.

The population, in those days, was around 1,000 people. That is a little more than double the latest Census estimate for Salvisa. All of those 1,000 people and more were gathered in Bethlehem on that day. The people were under the authority of the Roman Empire, which had no problem throwing its weight around. On that particular day, the people under Rome’s authority were required to return to their hometown in order to be counted. This was an ordinary occurrence for the people in Bethlehem, because Rome made it a habit of doing things to reminded people of their authority and power.

It was also an ordinary day for those outside of Bethlehem. Residing around the hillsides outside of Bethlehem were a group of shepherds. The shepherds were doing their job. They were keeping watch of their sheep to make sure they stayed safe from intruders. Shepherds were not the most beloved group of people. Some tolerated them as those who performed a needed task in society, but the people had little use for them. Others viewed them as thieves, because they would do what was needed in order to survive even if it meant taking from others. On that day they were just trying to live and survive.

And on that ordinary was a young couple came into town and had made their way to a home somewhere inside of Bethlehem. They were living in Nazareth, which was a small and insignificant town north of Bethlehem in the Galilean area. It was a 10-day walk through mountainous terrain, which gave cover to potential vandals who made it their task to take advantage of travelers who came through the area. They came even though they were expecting their first child any day now. It was required of them, because one of them was from Bethlehem and everyone had to return to their hometown. Since the entire family was in town, the only room left for them was in the barn with the animals located on the bottom floor of the home.

All of this was taking place on this one ordinary day in Bethlehem roughly 2,020 years ago. For each of these people we mentioned this ordinary day wouldn’t be such an ordinary day. It would be a day they would remember and reflect upon for quite some time. In fact, we have gathered as a community – along with millions around the world this night and this weekend – to remember and reflect upon the meaning of that day and its implications for us on this day and in this time.

For on that day, in the City of David known as Bethlehem, a child was born to that young couple who were expecting their firstborn child. They had great hopes for this child, but perhaps more so than the typical parental hope for their children. For this child was the child of promise. The child who was identified as the Savior, the Messiah, and the Lord. A day just like any other, but a day God used to usher in a new era of peace and hope through this child whom we know as Jesus.

Our journey through this ordinary day begins with that young couple, Mary and Joseph. We mentioned they came from Nazareth, which was Mary’s hometown, to Bethlehem, which was Joseph’s, to be part of this registration. Months earlier Mary was told by Gabriel, a messenger from God, that she would give birth to a child who would be the Savior of all people. She was young, perhaps 13, and engaged to Joseph. It was startling news, especially for Joseph who wrestled with whether to remain with Mary before deciding to remain with her after his own angelic encounter in a dream.

There they were in the family stable, waiting like many other young couples do for their first child to make its arrival upon the world. Waiting to know the ways this child would live up to the promises for him. Like any other young couple, you could imagine that they didn’t want to travel far or do anything to risk the birth, but a pregnancy far along was the least of the concerns for the Roman government. When the registration was called for they traveled and took the risk to go to Bethlehem, the city of David and the city where the prophets foretold that this child of promise would be born. In that town, and in that stable, came a child – the first child – to Mary and Joseph.

An ordinary occurrence of joy for the birth of a new child. An ordinary moment we all know well when we welcomed children into our lives and families. God used this ordinary moment of life, of the powers of the government, to bring forth God’s will of peace, hope, and love for all people. God used an ordinary moment in time to bring about the personification of God’s nature through this child.

Remember we said the shepherds were there doing their job on this ordinary day. They have no clue what was taking place down in the city. They were up in the hills, sitting with the sheep, and were waiting for the sun to come up. It was only when they were greeted by an unexpected visitor did they get a sense of what was taking place in Bethlehem.

In the midst of an ordinary day of work for the shepherds, an angel – a messenger from God – appeared before them. This would be a terrifying moment for anyone, and especially for these shepherds. If society viewed them as nuances or thieves, can you imagine what was going through their minds when an angel appeared before them? Why would an angel, I could just imagine them thinking, have to do with a lowly group of shepherds? Why now? Did we do something wrong?

This messenger came to do what all of creation yearns to do. The messenger came to proclaim God’s glory. The messenger came to announce what God was doing in Bethlehem. The messenger announced to the shepherds that a child was born who would fulfill the promises of hope for all. The messenger came before the shepherds with the good news that the light of God has come to the world. It was a message, they said, that was for them and for all people. A message that was echoed when this one messenger was joined by the entire heavens proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Glory to God, because peace has come to all people and all the earth through this child found in the manger.

There in the shepherds’ ordinary moments they were greeted with the news the entire world was waiting for of a savior who would come to redeem and rescue the world. A messiah who would bring hope to the entire world. On this ordinary night, the angels gave the shepherds an invitation to see the Messiah Jesus. This was an invitation given not to the powerful and the elites, not to the rich and influential, but to this lowly group of easily ignored shepherds. The shepherds were welcomed to experience the light that had come upon the world, just as all people were welcome.

Ordinary moments, but did you notice something about them? In the normal moments of life God’s presence appeared and greeted people with the hope of God’s love. For Mary and Joseph, in the ordinary moment of the birth of a child they were greeted with the very incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. For the shepherds, it was in the ordinary moments of work that they were welcomed to experience the hope of Christ that came to bring peace to the entire world.

God used ordinary moments to bring forth extraordinary hope. That extraordinary hope was found in the birth of a child who would grow to live into the promise of grace through a life that brought redemption, reconciliation, and hope to all. A group of shepherds who were welcomed to the table as a sign of how all are welcomed to experience the hope of Christ.

This is what Christmas is all about. It is the reminder of how God uses ordinary moments of life to bring about extraordinary hope. Christmas is about how God works in the most normal realities of life to point us towards something bigger than ourselves.

Sometimes we miss this because we try to often look for the extraordinary in the extraordinary. We focus on the big events and big moments. We can miss how Christmas is about God’s working in the ordinary moments of life to do something special, something holy, and something beautiful. When we take our gaze off the ordinary moments of that first Christmas we miss God’s actions and love. When our gaze, in our own lives, is often on waiting for God to only work in big moments we miss how God truly works in our lives. God routinely uses ordinary moments to do extraordinary things to bring forth God’s peace and hope upon the world.

Take a look around and you will see that it is the ordinary that reminds us of God’s extraordinary hope. An ordinary candle is a message of how Christ is the light that shines in darkness. An ordinary piece of bread and a cup of juice remind us of Christ’s message of life and hope for the world through faith. An ordinary night is a night of reflection of what it means to receive hope and to share hope through our words and actions.

If we only wait for gigantic announcements, big timpani drum sounds, or those big flashing lights, we’ll be waiting for a long time to hear from God. Yet, if we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts attuned to the message of Christmas, we’ll be reminded day after day that just like the first Nativity God routinely uses things in our lives to bring us closer to the indwelling message of hope that came through Christ.

On this Christmas Eve, as we prepare to celebrate more tomorrow, remember that on an ordinary day in Bethlehem to an expectant couple and a group of ignored shepherds God did something extraordinary. God sent light upon the world, through Jesus, to share hope and peace with all people.

I wonder, today, how God is using ordinary things in your life, in my life, in our community to remind us of hope and to allow us to be a witness of God’s peace through Christ. Ordinary moments of God that lead to extraordinary moments of grace.

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