Finding God among the commonplace
"So then, where does that leave the one who is wise? Or the scholars? Or the skillful debaters of this world? God has shown that this world’s wisdom is foolishness!"
—I Corinthians 1:20 (Good News Bible)
By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
After nearly 40 years of ministry, I’m still sorting out the many facets in the Christmas story. For instance, I have yet to fully understand why and how God chose to send the Son to us in such a way!
It’s amazing when you think about it.
For centuries people lived with a promise that one day God would send a Messiah to redeem God’s people. Prophet after prophet told of a Savior who would usher in God’s reign upon the world. As years passed, the hopes, expectations, and doubts grew concerning this Chosen One. Some envisioned a mighty warrior who would overthrow the enemies and oppressors of God’s people; many felt that abundance and prosperity would flow down from the almighty throne of God’s anointed King. The promise of the One to come kept their hopes alive. Then, "in the fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4), God sent that long-awaited Ruler.
When God, not humankind, got ready, the One arrived—and in such a captivating way that the world and Bob Hayes are still trying to figure it out!
Why did God choose to send Jesus during the reign of Augustus Caesar? Was it accidental, coincidental, or even providential that the most ingenious of the Caesars made the decision for worldwide enrollment that required the Son of God to be born in Bethlehem?
Consider Mary, the mother of Jesus and the maid of Galilee who heard the angel Gabriel proclaim, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you." She must have been astonished. Surely the angel made a mistake, got addresses mixed up, or the message was intended for another Mary. She had little education, culture, or background suitable to prepare her for this task. Yet, for some reason, God chose her!
Also consider the city of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem. It was nothing more than a one-donkey town, just north of the most important city in Israel. Surely if a king was to be born that would most likely be in Jerusalem.
And then there is the place where Jesus was born—in a barn! Picture a typical barn; it’s likely the least desirable place for the birth of a human being. Circumstances dictated the place, for the Gospel of Luke reports, "There was no place for them in the inn." Happenstance? Coincidence? Our songs declare He was born in a manger. Regardless of what songs and legends say, a manger in that era was only a dirty, crusty trough for animals boarded by overnight guests.
Surely the God of heaven and earth could have selected a better place and better circumstances for the arrival of the King—but God didn’t.
It has taken me all these years to figure out God’s purpose in all of that. God proved to anyone that no beginning is too humble, too hostile, too crude, or too lowly for the Creator’s use. The beauty, joy, and truth I have uncovered is that God can use the worst humankind can muster and make the best of it. No circumstance is so unfortunate that God cannot bring good from it.
The evidence of the Christmas story shouts to me that God can do anything with anybody, anywhere, and at any time!
Who other than God could have written such a beautiful story? Truly God’s ways and deeds confound our knowledge and make the wisdom of our world seem utterly ridiculous. The utterly familiar Christmas story surprises me yet again. Just when I think I’ve figured out God, I realize I haven’t. God’s ways are unpredictable.
This timeless story reminds me yet again this year that the God I serve is both simple and complex, a God who can take the common things of life and turn them into a revelation of Glory. In the mystery of Christmas, God reveals Himself to us in a way never before seen. Take time to look for God during the weeks of this season. You will find our Creator among the simple, common things of life.