[Continued from Part 1]
Novelty. There's an irreducible element of the human spirit that craves it more than nearly anything else.
It's why a public speaker can develop a massive following, not necessarily by speaking on a fresh, original topic, but by conveying an old and worn out subject in a new way, in a manner that makes their listeners say to themselves, "Wow, I've never thought about it that way before."
As children, our thirst for novelty drives us to discard birthday and Christmas gifts not long after rejoicing over them, but as adults, we don't fare much better: companies make billions because we consume their latest products not so much for their utility, but for their freshness. Apple is an obvious example.
What does this have to do with the incarnation and its effects on your life, you ask? More than you may think.
It's common to hear people say, "You know, I tried the God thing. I tried church. But it didn't really do much for me. So I left."
Now, there are many reasons an individual may say that, which I won't go into here, but what's often behind that statement is a hidden premise. And the premise goes something like, "God, if he exists, or if he cares about me, would have done something much more exciting for me when I tried to seek him."
But the incarnation—while a miraculous event indeed—shows us that God frequently works in your life in more ordinary ways than you realize. And expecting him to do the spiritual equivalent of releasing a new iPhone every couple months will rob you of the beauty he provides in the mundane.
Let's look at two facets of Jesus' life that illustrate this, and then move into how it impacts us today.
The Birth of Christ
The night Christ was born, the heavenly hosts must have been waiting with bated breath, the silence and anticipation so thick you could've cut the air with a knife. The Creator, for the first time ever, was entering into human history as a man. What was going to happen? How would he fare? Would the mission succeed?
But the rest of the world, upon waking that same morning, went about their day as usual: rolling out of bed groggy-eyed, walking to their respective work sites. Merchants bartering, folks grabbing brunch together, a carpenter accidentally smashing his finger with a hammer. It was a very ordinary day.
Imagine Mary and Joseph during the birth itself. No trumpets sounding, no dancing and singing. No social media to post pictures on. It was the complete opposite of exciting. Refused admittance to the inn, they were outside in the cold, in the dark, with a dirty feeding trough to lay their child in. Way less enchanting than our nativity scenes depict.
As they held Jesus, the savior of the world in their arms, what they perceived was a very human child: a tiny infant struggling with every ounce of his energy to open his heavy eyelids, only to shut them again as his nascent strength failed to keep them open. His little feet and fingers curling, craving the warmth and security of the womb he was so recently at home in.
The baby Jesus wouldn't have appeared particularly special, other than the fact that existence itself is a rather extraordinary thing.
The Life of Christ
As Jesus grew, studying craftsmanship and learning in the synagogue, he must have been personable and intelligent (Luke 2:46-47), and yet there was still such a commonness about him that even his own parents didn't fully understand who he was, nor what he came to do (Luke 2:48-50).
The town he came from, Nazareth, was known to be at the bottom of the pecking order as far as class and significance were concerned. When Philip's skeptical friend, Nathanael, asked in John 1:46, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" he was speaking in a tone of incredulity, and probably derision. He couldn't believe this supposed "great man" was raised by the low of society. It'd be akin to an employee or partner of a prestigious law firm looking at a new hire and saying, "Really, he/she came from there? Surely nothing good can come out of [insert college the intellectuals look down upon]."
Looking at his ministry, yes, he did create quite a stir: the reverberations of his life are still expanding throughout the earth, creating the most culturally-diverse and class-diverse belief system in the world. And yet, much of the time with his disciples would have been lived in the mundane: breaking bread together, walking around, teaching in synagogues, and untold hours of ministering to a lost, scared, and very common people.
Innovation and exhilaration can be beautiful things, and much of Jesus' life and ministry was far from insipid. But don't let an obsession with novelty and excitement make you miss the many ways God works in the mundane.
Checking email and social media first thing in the morning gives you a chemical high, but they won't give you the ballast, poise, and rootedness in reality that daily prayer and Scripture reading provide. The latter discipline may feel boring at first, but like any discipline worth pursuing, it requires time, repetition, perseverance through frustration, and habit formation, before unlocking a world of wonder.
[It's not so different from craving the talent of a professional athlete or skilled musician, yet refusing to put in the daily, repetitive (and often unexciting) practice of shooting the ball or plucking the strings. Or desiring the success of a well-known businessman or woman, and refusing to be disciplined in the tedious work of sales calls, follow-ups, and instilling company culture. Reaching the heights of anything requires sacrifice and run-of-the-mill work. Love relationships are no different.]
You may think you have a humdrum job, but don't miss the people in your workplace or neighborhood God has placed there for you to love and serve. There won't be fireworks when you do so, but it's a massive way to be Christ's hands and feet on earth, and there are countless individuals who are hurting, even if they don't show it on the surface. Our workplaces and neighborhoods are in dire need of people who walk out of their home with a "you first" mindset rather than a "me first" mentality.
Don't miss those in your life who are there to encourage you, or challenge you. Even those you find intolerable will—if you don't avoid them—provide ways to grow in love, forgiveness, and patience in a manner that other people cannot. And after a while, you may even find you care, having learned to love them for who they are in and of themselves, rather than what they are as a means to an end.
Then there's the little yet remarkable things. A child on a swing, whizzing up into the air, suspended at the top of the world for a moment only to plummet back down again, grinning from ear to ear, fully and utterly happy to experience something as basic as gravity for the first time. Or playing a game of soccer, feeling that terrific weariness of the legs and labored breathing of the lungs, the delightful surprise when your body collaborates with itself, connecting the foot to the ball exactly as it should, sending the ball flying into the net and inciting shouts of celebration and dismay from the other players.
Life itself is a miracle, it's a tragedy we're so often bored with it.
Finally, don't miss the joy of forgiveness through Christ. Sometimes it becomes so commonplace you forget how astounding it is.
Our culture has spurned the notion of guilt, claiming there's no moral absolutes we're beholden to, nor a God who's the straight-edge for measuring right and wrong. And yet, all of us have a sense of condemnation we can't shake. All of us know we're not living as we ought to live. We may not call it guilt anymore, but we all know shame.
Jean-Paul Sartre speaks to this in his book Being and Nothingness, when he says it would be a living hell to know someone was always looking at you, watching every move you made, hearing every word you said, even knowing all your thoughts. It's difficult to refute this would indeed be unbearable.
But why would it be hell unless you carried shame? We all intuit that we live as a divided self: there's a gap between the fallen person we are, and the person we were created to be. A gap between the thought and work we know we're capable of, and the thinking and doing we let ourselves get by with. Naturalism tells us we're mere animals, but we don't feel that way. We feel like angels who lost their greatness, and scramble to obtain it again. And we are utterly terrified that someone will discover some of the things we've done or thought.
And yet, in Jesus, because of what he did through the incarnation, you have the joy of complete and utter forgiveness. You don't realize the steady, low-level chronic pain that guilt and shame presses on you until it's taken away. You need to remember and throw yourself into that ocean of love and forgiveness daily, and especially in the mundane. It will be a refreshing breeze on your heart, relieving you of the melancholy burden of trying to prove yourself to yourself and other people.
It's precisely because the extraordinary became ordinary, that this is possible. Don't miss it.
[Continue to Part 3]