The Wonder of the Mundane
A few weeks ago, I crossed the I-5 bridge near downtown Portland, heading home at the end of a long day. I was on auto-pilot, intent on wrapping up in my covers as quickly as possible. Suddenly, the night sky right in front of me was lit up with huge fireworks. I mean, Main-Street-Disneyland-Fourth-of-July-Grand-Finale fireworks. I couldn’t imagine anything more surprising. I was immediately transported from the mundane to a place of wonder. A sense of awe and joy filled my heart, and I drove as slowly as possible to savor every last second.
Perhaps that’s a tiny picture of what it was like for the shepherds near Bethlehem the night that Jesus was born. In the wee small hours, they were keeping watch over their sheep. Their job was not a desirable one. Shivering, I imagine that they, too, looked forward to the end of a long shift. Suddenly, the night sky in front of them was lit up with the glory of the Lord, and an angel of the Lord spoke to them. Talk about surprising; they were terrified!
But that moment, when the mundane was transformed into a place of wonder, was not the most shocking thing that night. The angel’s message was the most surprising news of all time. Let me explain why.
Awaiting the News
The world had been waiting for this moment for thousands of years. Right after Adam and Eve sinned, even in the moment of judgment, God promised that one of Eve’s descendants would crush the serpent and destroy sin. He was known as the Messiah, the man who would come to save the world.
Generation after generation, humanity waited for this promised one. God told Abraham that he would come from his line. Then the promise was narrowed to Isaac, then Jacob, then the tribe of Judah. It seemed like it might be Moses, but he was only meant to point to the Savior. King David seemed like the best candidate, but then he sinned, too. Yet God promised him that one of his offspring would be the long-awaited Messiah, the ultimate King of Kings. Hundreds and hundreds of years passed, as the world struggled in sin and brokenness, and still the descendant of Eve did not appear.
The Biggest Surprise
Until that night in Bethlehem. The promised one finally came! And the news was announced to the shepherds. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) Just like God promised, he was an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham. Just like God promised, he was born in the town of David. Just like God promised, he came to be the savior of the world. And it was fitting for this King that this amazing moment was accompanied by the shining glory of the Lord, an announcement by a messenger from God, and followed by a myriad of angels singing, “Glory to God.”
But, as astonishing as that would have been for the shepherds, that was not the most surprising thing by far. Listen to what the angel said next, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
Wait a second. This is the King of Kings. The long-awaited Messiah, promised from nearly the dawn of time. And the heavenly sign of his coming was that he would be a baby? Wrapped in cloths? And lying in a manger? It is completely unexpected.
Jesus, although conceived miraculously, was born the typical way to normal parents. In fact, the circumstances of the birth of Christ were second-rate, even among the poor. There was no room for his parents to stay in the inn, so they holed up in a cave used by house animals. It would have been dirty and stinky. Joseph probably did his best to clean him with straw and then they wrapped him up. There was no bassinet, so they wiped out the trough and lay the baby in the manger. Like all new moms, Mary would have been exhausted and trying to figure out nursing for the first time. Moreover, as glorious as the scene was for the shepherds, it is staggering that the news would be given to them, rather than someone the world would deem worthy. Everything about the birth of this King was mundane. That is the most surprising news of all.
But the mundane has a purpose.
The Wonder of the Mundane
Although the inauspicious birth of Jesus was surprising, it was no accident. Yes, the Old Testament pointed forward to a descendant of Eve who would be a Savior and a King. But, if you read it carefully, this King would be a Servant who suffered for the sins of his people. Of him, Isaiah writes, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him . . . . Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering . . . . He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; that punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53: 2, 4-5).
Jesus’s ordinary birth, his life of poverty, and his shameful death were part of God’s plan to redeem humanity from sin. Jesus took on our poverty, weakness, shame and guilt. On the cross, he paid the debt that we owe. This was his glory. And God the Father was so pleased with his sacrifice, that he raised him from the dead. Jesus ascended into heaven, and he will reign as King with all the honor forever.
This is good news! But it is only good news to those who know they need a Savior like this. People like the shepherds, who were looked down upon by society. People who know that they have fallen short of God’s glory in the likeness of the transgression of Adam and Eve. People who need a Savior who is both fully God and fully human. One who was willing to come to Earth in the most mundane way and dwell among normal people who desperately need him. People like you and me.
How will you approach the manger this Advent season? Do you count yourself among those who, like the unworthy shepherds, have been told the good news about Jesus? If so, run to him, trusting in his sacrifice to forgive you. Is your heart filled with joy and awe when you consider that the King of Kings was considered lowly by the world’s standards and yet had a much greater glory in his Father’s eyes? If so, humble yourself and, like Jesus, live to serve others. Like the angels, tell the good news to all this Christmas. They, too, need the wonder of the mundane.