By Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor
We love the story and know it by heart. Without even opening the Bible, many of us can recite the familiar words from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed... And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn… And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.’”
Each time we read it, we are awed. God became flesh and lived among us. That is incredible. Whether we read it or sing it, the words are inadequate to convey the wonder of it all. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
In her autobiography, “Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family,” former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begins by describing her parents as extraordinary, ordinary people. She writes, “I don’t think they ever read a book on parenting. They were just good at it – not perfect, but really good.”
She further notes that she was “contacted by people who didn’t know my parents but recognized in my story their own parents’ love and sacrifice. Good parents are a blessing. Mine were determined to give me a chance to live a unique and happy life. In that they succeeded, and that is why every night I begin my prayers saying, ‘Lord, I can never thank you enough for the parents you gave me.’”
The definitions for ordinary and extraordinary suggest that they are opposites. Ordinary is used for things that are run of the mill, routine, dreary, boring and commonplace. Extraordinary describes something that is amazing, unexpected, special, and astonishing.
The story of the first Christmas brings these opposite words together. There is nothing more normal than paying taxes, babies being born, shepherds guarding sheep and stars in the sky. This “night like all others” becomes remarkable when two poor, frightened ordinary kids take part in the most extraordinary event of human history. An angelic choir singing praises to God is never “business as usual.” What is different about this baby’s birth is extraordinary. This One represents the fullness of God’s love for us. The newborn baby will grow and one day will express God’s love through sacrifice.
In 1722, the Town Council of Leipzig was looking for someone to hire as a cantor for their school and an organist for their church. After an extensive search, they selected a person, who three weeks later turned them down. They then offered the position to their second choice candidate, who turned them down also. As they offered the position to their third choice, one member of the council wrote, “Since the best man could not be obtained, a mediocre one would have to be accepted.”
The third choice, the mediocre selection, was Johann Sebastian Bach. He may have been their third pick, but Johann Sebastian Bach was an extraordinary composer and church musician.
The danger for us is that we won’t recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary. We will be sidetracked by the routine, by the activity and by our forgone conclusions. We will be so caught up in the ordinary that we simply miss the extraordinary.
Thankfully, every Christmas offers the familiar and new invitation afresh.
“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold him, born the King of angels; O come, let us adore him, O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”