Summary: No one wants to be “average”, or “ordinary”. No one, except, strangely enough, God.
The Ordinary God
Luke 2:41-51; Phil 2:1-8 Dec 28, 2008
What did Jesus do for the first 30 years of His life on earth?
We’ve just come through the season of Advent, the waiting and preparing, and then celebrating the birth of Jesus, the arrival of God in human flesh, the “incarnation” (to use the fancy theological term that sums up all that it means for the God of the Universe to take on human flesh, become completely human and live and walk around and experience all that it means to be human). We have read the story in Scripture. We have sung the story. We have given gifts, feasted, gathered with friends and family, all brought about by our desire to celebrate Christmas – the birth of Jesus.
But now the presents are all unwrapped. The feast is over, and the leftovers in the fridge are losing their appeal and are quickly headed for either the freezer or the garbage. The tree, with all its beauty and color, starts to feel more like a chore waiting to be done. We have the New Year’s celebration to look forward to this week, but then what? January. A return to “normal”. But does it really have to be that way?? Yes, actually, it does. The thing is to make sure that “normal” is actually Christlike.
Many of us don’t really like “normal”. “Ordinary” is an insult; it is like “average”. In a culture that worships stardom, that exalts “overachieving”, that loves the hero, that constantly seeks the triumph, that must always win, and where there is only one winner, no one wants to be “ordinary”. No one sets out to be in the middle of the bell curve. No one wants to be the “average”. Even in our spiritual lives, we sing the praises of radical transformation, we desire the miraculous, we want to hear the stories of exceptional and “supernatural” acts of God: we don’t hear very often about how a person grew up in church, gradually came to love Jesus more and more, has “kept their nose clean”, and is just daily trying to live in obedience to God. Those stories don’t get book deals or appearances on 100 Huntley Street. Because no one wants to be “average”, or “ordinary”. No one, except, strangely enough, God.
A couple weeks ago I started reading a book called “Exiles”, by Michael Frost. He tells the following story:
The great Spanish painter Bartolome Esteban Murillo was the youngest of fourteen children of a Sevillian barber, Gasper Esteban, and his wife, Maria Peres. in 1627, his father died, and a year later came the death of his mother. Because his elder sisters and brothers had already grown up and left home, the ten-year-old Bartolome was adopted into the family of his aunt, who was married to a wealthy Sevillian doctor. There he encountered a strict religious household and was often in conflict with his pious Catholic adoptive father. In pride of place in the sitting room of the doctor’s house hung a large picture entitled Jesus the Shepherd Boy. Murillo said that the picture dominated the family, and its depiction of the young boy Jesus was in keeping with the devout tenor of the household. Murillo, himself later known for his religious paintings that emphasized the peaceful, joyous aspects of spiritual life, claimed that the picture haunted him for most of his years with the doctor’s family.
The shepherd boy in the gilt frame stood bolt upright, straight and tall, his shepherd’s crook like a sentinel’s bayonet. Around his head beamed an obligatory halo. His eyes were lifeless, averted. His cheeks were rosy, and his complexion was unsullied. To the young Bartolome, nothing could be further form his vision of a young Judean shepherd boy. One day when his adoptive family was out of the house, he removed the picture from the wall and began to work on it with his paint set. The stern, unflinching face was given a lively grin. The eyes were enlivened with mischief. The halo was transformed into a battered straw hat, and the plastered down hair was now tousled and unruly. Jesus’ crook was turned into a gnarled walking stick, and the somewhat limp lamb at his feet was altered into a troublesome dog. (p. 28-29)
We can imagine what happened when the doctor returned home… We all, I think, have a tendency to paint in our imaginations a picture of Jesus more like the original painting than the altered one. We want our Jesus to be standing bolt upright, straight and tall, always clean, always polite, halo polished, complexion unsullied, every hair neatly in place. We want it in our manger scenes: clean hay, perfect white baby skin, “no crying he makes”. We don’t want a Jesus who is an “ordinary” boy, we want a perfect child who says “yes mum, I would love to do the dishes” without a word of disappointment or complaint. We don’t want a Jesus who falls down and bruises his face while learning to walk, who gets dirty playing in the mud and then exasperates his mom when he tracks the mud into the house, who ever struggles to learn how to read, who doesn’t like the taste of lamb liver but is forced to eat it anyway, who has sexual feelings as a young man, who accidentally smashes his finger with a hammer. We don’t really want a Jesus who is completely human. God couldn’t be that “ordinary”. But, really, what did Jesus do for the first 30 years of his life, if not experience all those “ordinary” things?