Gift #5 — Finding the Sacred in the Ordinary
Haven’t the stars been beautiful this year? I pray you have found time to enjoy the night sky. I recognize that this is a busy time of year so adding to your schedule, even to do something for yourself, is tough. So our next gift won’t require any extra time, just a little extra thought. Gift number 5 is to recognize the Sacred in the Ordinary.
Ok. I just googled what “sacred” means. According to www.collinsdictionary.com something is sacred when it is “believed to be holy and to have a special connection with God.” Collins Dictionary also states that “you can describe something as sacred when it is regarded as too important to be changed or interfered with.”
Then I looked up “ordinary,” which is described as “normal and not special or different in any way.” Other words to describe “ordinary” are “familiar” and “common.”
What I’m asking you to give yourself is the awareness that some of the familiar and common tasks you do every day may actually be holy and have a special connection to God.
Let’s go back to the story of Jesus’ birth. This time we are going to look again at the book of Luke. In chapter 2 of Luke we find the story of shepherds and angels. In verses 1 to 20 here is the text:
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
And on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherd’s returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
In this text, we are reminded that Jesus’ birth did not take place in a grand palace. Instead, his parents could not even find room in an inn. They spent the night in a stable and the newborn child was placed in a manger, the container that cows, sheep and other animals would eat out of.
We also see that God did not announce the birth of the Messiah by contacting the major news networks or publications. He went to the most common, ordinary folks he could find, the shepherds out watching their flocks of sheep. I tried to think of a modern occupation similar to what the shepherds would have been. If you live in a rural area it is easy to compare farmers of today with the shepherds. Farmers still work long hours tending to livestock or crops regardless of weather, often for very little return on their investment. If you’ve always lived in the city, picturing life on the farm may be a stretch.
Picture this instead. A downtown office building closes for the evening. All the office workers have gone home. The building is dark. Slowly the lights are turned back on as the cleaning crew enters each office to dust, empty trash and vacuum. Suddenly, the building goes dark again, as if the electricity went out. Each member of the crew stops cleaning and searches in the darkness to figure out what happened. Then a strange glow appears in the lobby. The entire crew moves toward the glow, trying to figure out what is going on. As they enter the lobby, they hear a voice. They are no longer wondering what happened to the electricity. They are genuinely afraid! The voice says, “Be not afraid. For I am here to bring good news. A child has been born and he shall be the savior of the world. You will find the child and his parents sharing a cot at the City Union Mission.” As soon as the announcement has been made, an entire choir of voices starts singing praises to God!
That’s what happened 2000 years ago. Ordinary people carrying out their ordinary chores on an ordinary night found themselves smack dab in the middle of the most sacred moment humankind has experienced. They were witnesses to angels singing. They got to visit with the Holy family. We still tell their story 2000 years later.
Let me clarify one more word. Messiah. This story really does not make much sense if you see the birth of Jesus as simply one more child born into this world. At the time that Jesus was born, the Jews were looking for a king who would deliver them from the oppression of Roman rulers. Again, according to www.collinsdictionary.com, a Messiah is someone expected to deliver a country or a people from a difficult or dangerous situation. Today, people of the Christian faith see Jesus as a different kind of deliverer. He delivers us from “not knowing” God’s love.
In my last post I admitted there are many things about this world I don’t know or understand. I don’t know or understand why some of us are born into healthy situations while others suffer at tender ages much less healthy circumstances. I don’t understand why some of us are born shepherds and some of us are born kings. What I do understand is all of us are loved by God. That’s why Jesus was born. At his birth the curtain that separates the sacred from the ordinary got torn just a bit. God allowed us to peek through that curtain to see just how loved each one of us is. The Creator who enjoys building stars with big collisions and sews together our eyesight and our hearing longs to shower us with His love. So He sent His son as a way of connecting us to that love.
Notice how God does not announce the entrance of the Savior of the World with a royal parade or a grand show of fireworks. Although you might consider Angels singing in the night sky and a star that leads Wise Men from a foreign country as being similar to fireworks. The Creator of the Universe definitely has His own unique ways of reaching out to us. That’s why we need to be open to the sacred showing up in our lives through ordinary means.
Your next gift to yourself will begin by choosing a day this week to be an “Inside Out Day.” On that day wear some piece of clothing inside out or backwards. All day long allow that to remind you to be searching for the Sacred in your ordinary tasks. Become aware of all the ways God is reaching out to you and trying to connect with you. Whether it is dusting, vacuuming or emptying the trash. Tending to flocks or crops. Driving to work, picking up a cup of coffee at your favorite coffee shop. Serving that cup of coffee. Logging in to your computer. Greeting a coworker. Riding the bus. Driving the bus. Even the most common of tasks has a sacred element to it when we pay attention and ponder how it might connect us to God.
Among those ordinary tasks, be especially aware of tasks involving the children in your world. Tucking a child in at night so they can fall asleep assured that they are safe and loved may seem like a common ordinary task. In fact, if you are a working parent it may seem like the last thing you want to do at the end of a stressful day. I remember those days. Tucking my daughter in at night was quite the chore. We read together. It was my job to make her laugh while we read. Then I’d wait, not so patiently, by her bedside until she fell asleep. During the years I was in graduate school it took every last bit of energy, humor, patience and faith that I had to accomplish this chore before going to my room to study and write papers. I was shocked to find out years later that my daughter remembered those days. She remembers because the sound of my electric typewriter would wake her up in the middle of the night. She remembers because she knew I had taken time to focus on her before turning my attention to my studies. For Christmas a few years ago, she gave me a necklace with “Mark 14:8” engraved in it. When you look up the scripture it says, “She has done what she could … ” Her memories of those nights were the inspiration for the gift.
I was able to carry out the ordinary task of tucking my child in at night because of the love and reassurance I received from family as well as members of the church we attended at the time. If you are struggling to find support in the circumstances of your life, ask your prayer partner to pray with you that God would guide you to a safe and supportive place of worship. Allow yourself to meet ordinary people at an ordinary place of worship who just might be willing to do something sacred by demonstrating God’s love for you. Allow yourself to be surrounded by a community of believers willing to share God’s love with you. I just might feel a lot like being “tucked in” by God’s love.
My prayer for you this week is that you would begin to recognize how God has been reaching out to you, trying to let you know that you are loved. Look for Him today in the ordinary tasks of your life.