An Extraordinary Gift for Us Ordinary People

An extraordinary thing happening to ordinary people. 

If Mike Rowe’s show “Dirty Jobs” had existed on Galilean TV back in Mary and Joseph’s day, shepherds would have certainly been featured. Like the folks who go into sewers, work landfills, and make cheese, shepherds were considered dirty. So they kept to themselves, on the outsides of cities, living their lives taking care of sheep, especially for the temple. 

These were, perhaps, some of the most ordinary people imaginable during Mary’s day. And it’s to these very ordinary people, these dirty people, these outcasts, that God decides to make his big pronouncement. Like the Queen of England announcing the birth of a new grandchild, God puts his royalty on full display in the night sky by sending a gaggle of angels out to the fields where “shepherds were keeping watch over their flock by night.” The angels sing, they put on an incredible show, an extraordinary show. 

It’s fair to say that Silent Night’s version of this scene was probably right: “Silent Night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight, glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing Alleluia.”

And from this extraordinary experience, these very ordinary shepherds go to the very ordinary barn where a very ordinary-looking baby was just born. 

An extraordinary thing happening to ordinary people.

Let’s hear that story on this Christmas Eve. It’s found in Luke, chapter 2. 

Scripture

An extraordinary thing happening to ordinary people. 

Note with me that the word extraordinary is a compound noun of the words extra and ordinary.

This time of year, it’s easy to get lost in the extra-ordinary nature of Jesus’s birth. We get ready for the season by doing extra things; things out of the ordinary. It’s extra that we decorate our homes beyond what we do for any other season. It’s extra that we decorate our church beyond what we do for any other season, even Easter. It’s extra that we buy all these gifts. And in particular this season, we have had extra parties to attend and extra social obligations. 

It’s an extra-ordinary season; an extraordinary season. So it’s easy to think of Jesus’s birth as extraordinary. And indeed it was. Who else in history has had an immaculate conception? How many have been visited by angels and told that they would play a consequential and decisive role in history? How many of us have seen the heavenly host singing in the sky? 

And yet, here Jesus is, born in a very normal, human way, to live life as a human, just like us.

As Christians, we believe that Christ was equally divine and human during his earthly life. In his divinity, Jesus conquered sin and death and destroyed their power forever, just as we say each time we come to the table. In his humanity, Jesus showed us how God loves us. 

God came down in human form to be one of us, to empathize with us humans. Consider this very famous verse from Hebrews: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) God sent Jesus to experience what it was like to be human, to be one of us, to be ordinary for most of his life, so that God could better empathize with our plight as humans.

Jesus was an extraordinary human being who lived a very ordinary life.

Consider how little we know about Jesus’s life. We know something of his three years of ministry, leading up to his execution and resurrection. We know a little bit about his early years: his birth, the flight to Egypt, the visit of the magi, and the scene of him teaching in the temple as a boy. But, we know very little about him otherwise. 

That’s because Jesus as a toddler, a little boy, a teenager, and finally a young man, was ordinary. For the vast majority of his life, he was the obscure son of a carpenter, learning to ply his father’s trade. For those in Nazareth, Jesus was probably considered Joseph’s biological son. Based on the scene in the temple, we can imagine that he had a reputation as being particularly talented at religion, and maybe his neighbors thought he would become a priest one day. That would be no different than a child we know who’s particularly talented at soccer, or math, or high in emotional intelligence; the kind of child for whom we have high expectations and see a clear career path.

The point being Jesus, prior to his ministry, was ordinary. And the whole of his earthly life, while fully divine he was also fully human, just as we are. 

And because he was human, he could and still does empathize with our human plight, because he has intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be us. He experienced all the trials, hardships, challenges, and emotions, we know in this life. And so he is, as Paul said, our high priest who can empathize with our human experiences.

Jesus, the extraordinary coming of God in human form, knows what our ordinary lives are like. In What an incredible gift we have on this Christmas Eve. 

Jesus, who was fully divine, came to earth to simultaneously be fully human. To walk a mile in our shoes. Which is the definition of empathy. 

And that applies to every situation in life. We can all relate to what it’s like to be completely elated, overtaken by joy. We know what it’s like to be terribly depressed. We have moments of severe doubt and incredible confidence. We know what it’s like to be carried away by an irrepressible love and by a burning hatred. So does Jesus. He’s been there. 

He’s been full of laughter and joy at a party for friends. 

He’s been content and at peace after a hard day’s work. 

He’s been financially stretched and worried. 

He’s been thirsty and tempted to betray God in his time of need.

He’s been famished and tempted to sin in his hunger.

He’s been angry when family and friends have betrayed him.

He’s been devastated by grief at the loss of a loved one. 

He’s physically suffered in body and mind, knowing pain and agony. 

He’s known the relief of healing. 

He’s experienced the joy that can only come after a period of suffering.

Can you relate to Jesus this evening? For he certainly can relate to each of us, no matter where we are, because he’s been there, too. How extraordinary, all because Jesus lived an ordinary life.

In all our trials, Jesus was born to be our friend. Life is hard sometimes. Cruel even. And no matter what we’ve been through, are going through this evening, or will go through in this life, Jesus has been there. To our weakness, he is no stranger. We have this savior, Emmanuel, God with us, who knows our needs because he’s had the same needs.

Jesus is with us in every emotion, in every hardship, because Jesus has known them all personally. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, present with us in all of our hardships, whenever we’re feeling any sort of way, because Jesus was one of us; Jesus understands our suffering because Jesus was an ordinary human; Jesus was one of us. 

In his ordinary life, Jesus learned what life is like for us. That is extraordinary. 

An extraordinary gift for us ordinary people. 

For us today, and for us everyday, this gift of empathy should make the word Emmanuel, God with us, carry tremendous power in our lives. For God is with us, in our humanity, in our trials and temptations. Jesus walked a mile in our shoes. He knows what our ordinary lives are like. That is extraordinary. Let us give thanks this evening for the extraordinary gift of Jesus’s ordinary life on this earth that allows him to empathize with us. 

Do you know that empathy this evening? Do you know that Christ is with you? When we come to the table in a few minutes, we have the opportunity to be renewed in our faith or to commit to faith in Jesus Christ perhaps for the first time. Wherever you are this evening, whatever burdens you might be carrying, emotions you might be feeling, bring them here to the table. Jesus is waiting with open arms, saying to you and me, I am Emmanuel, God with you, in every part of your life. That is the hope for our lives this Christmas Eve; the love of our savior who brings peace and joy to all our trials, sufferings, temptations, and weaknesses. 

As we prepare our hearts to come to the table, I invite us to ponder this gift of empathy we have through Jesus Christ. We have the chance to do that now as Rachel and Katie Beth lead us in a mash up of two songs that bring forth this message of hope. The Christmas Carol What Child is This? tells us about Jesus’s extraordinary nature as Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. That will be mashed up with a newer carol called Child of the Poor, which speaks to how Jesus is with us in every part of our humanity, for he knows what it’s like to be us. The chorus says, “Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrows, knowing their hunger? This is Christ, revealed to the world in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.” 

As we hear both songs, let us give thanks to God for this gift of empathy; born in a manger so long ago.

Emmanuel. God is with us. An extraordinary gift for us ordinary people.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.

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