Is your life ordinary or extraordinary? I think most of us might think of our lives as being just ordinary.
Several days ago, Chuck Yeager past away. He was a man that some might said led an extraordinary life. He was the first to fly faster than the speed of sound. I saw a joke that quipped about his death. The person wrote that in his passing he saw about it before he heard it.
by John Gillespie Magee
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew –
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
An extraordinary life! However, perhaps not many of us may think such eloquence speaks to our own lives. We are ordinary, aren’t we? Have we touched the face of God?
This is the 4th Sunday of Advent. The Advent conspiracy calls us to “Worship Fully”, “Spent Less”, “Give More”, and finally to “Love All”. This fourth tenet is what we are thinking about today. I think it challenges us to consider that any ordinary life can be extraordinary. Perhaps we can not touch the face of God, but has god not touched us?
Consider the life of Mary. We should consider that Mary led an ordinary life. She was a young girl of around 15 years of age. She grew up in an average family of a small community. She was not rich, and probably helped work the land to provide food for the family.
Like most of the people of her time she would have naturally been part of the religious life of her community. In larger synagogues such as in Jerusalem the women worshipped separately from the men, but evidence indicates that in their local synagogue women were equally involved in religious life as much as the men. They were not necessarily separated or excluded even from positions of leadership.
Still at that time it was not the custom to educate women in the Jewish Law. One website noted, based on the passage in Deut. 4:9, “teach them to thy sons,” the rabbis declared women to be exempt from the commandment to learn the Law of Moses. Indeed, the Talmud says, “It is foolishness to teach Torah to your daughter” (Sotah 20a). It is likely that women were less literate because of the patriarchy that was part of Roman and Jewish society. (I don’t want you to get mad at me though. I am just describing the historical setting.)
In the first century the role of a woman in polite society of larger urban areas was to be kept covered, stay at home, and take care of the household. Then when they got old enough the father would strike a deal for an arranged marriage; to give his daughter to another man as a wife. When our story begins, Mary was already betrothed to be married to Joseph. Most likely this was an arranged marriage. Maybe she knew Joseph well. Maybe she did not. Joseph was likely somewhat older and by trade he was in construction. Joseph worked with wood and stone. Sometimes we just think of Joseph as a carpenter, but if you needed some steps laid down outside of your home, Joseph was probably your man to go to. All of this is a short course in what Mary’s ordinary life was probably like.
But something happened to Mary, that turned her life from the mundane to the miraculous and unexplainable. She was visited by the angel Gabriel, and Gabriel told her that she was going to have a baby boy and she was to name him Jesus –which is basically a variant of the Hebrew name Joshua; which means deliver, or savoir. Not only that but Gabriel informs Mary that her child “Will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Basically, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy and God’s covenant with Abraham, and David would be within him. Jesus was to be the messiah spoken about long ago and waited for. God’s time was at a point of intersecting with human time. The fulfillment of promise was at hand. Heaven and God’s divine intervention into the affairs of humanity was now present. Now that is exceptional!
Mary questioned how such a thing could even be. Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her and that her child would be born and called the son of God. Then Gabriel told her about Elizabeth, who in her old age was also entering her last trimester. What a pair Mary and Elizabeth must have made. For one the gift of child was too soon, and for the other it was too late, but for God everything was just right, and none of what was happening could easily be explained from an earthly perspective. So, baffling is the story that today many find it easier to simply disbelieve it.
Mary on the other hand simply turned herself over to God’s plan. What did she have to fear if it was God that was with her –overshadowing her life, directing her? She knew that she was not alone in everything that she faced. This truth of God being in her life, especially in such a way, was extraordinary, and her life went from being ordinary to something extraordinary. It became extraordinary because of God’s love being given to the world in Christ through her.
In our world today we struggle with the burden of this pandemic. We worry about ourselves, our family members, our church, employment, and businesses staying open. Many people are struggling in so many ways. We may feel that we are just ordinary people living in extraordinarily difficult times, with fears within and without. What if I were to tell you that we should not be fearful, but rather we should live extraordinary lives, especially in these extraordinary times. Mary’s life was just the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus is an open-ended gift to all of us. Jesus came so that the Spirit of God might be poured out upon our world and every life. Jesus said, John 14:11-13 “12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
Christmas means that we have not been saddle with ordinary lives, but we have been called to extraordinary purposes. The truth is that we cannot be ordinary, because God has called us to do great things. The necessity of action on our part is to live with the faith of Mary who turned to God and waited for his purpose to be fulfilled in her life. There is a beauty in the image. Mary’s life was going to be extraordinary because God does nothing ordinary.
The advent conspiracy simply calls us to love all. It reminds us that God has called us to look beyond our own doors to even the world at large and to seek the avenues of ministry and service for others that God has called us to. Whatever words are used to describe this idea of loving all, I think it is about turning our attention less toward the things that worry us and more toward where God is calling us. The Advent Conspiracy book focuses mostly upon ministry and charitable giving to those who have need within our world. This is a good place to begin. It reminds us of the necessity to move beyond ourselves in our giving, but even more than that we have to wonder how each of us have been called to share in and encounter God’s love in the lives of others on a day-to-day basis. What extraordinary thing does God want you to do? Giving to money dig a well in a distant land is good, but how else does God wish to manifest his presence in your life? I think God works on a personal basis. He will take the best of who and what you are and use it for extraordinary purposes.
Within Mary’s extraordinary life it was God that has come along side each of us. Gabriel’s words defining who and what this child being born to Mary would be and do were not just for Mary, but for all who will hear and believe. In Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. In Christ God’s presence overshadows us.
We can choose to ignore or disbelieve what God has done, or like Mary we can just say, “Yeah let’s do this.” Jesus is born. God is with us. Go and live your extraordinary life. Extend God’s love to all that you meet. Amen.