23 December 2018
4th Sunday of Advent, Year C
Most, if not all of us, live what we might call “ordinary” lives. Our domestic churches—our home lives—aren’t so over the top as to be like the rich and famous, and they’re not so peculiar as to be the focus of a tv reality show. Our home lives are pretty...ordinary. We get up and have a bowl of cereal, take the dogs out, clean ourselves up, go to work, think of what to have for supper, and maybe catch a movie or read a good book.
Our lives are pretty ordinary—and I don’t mean “boring” or “not special;” I mean ordinary as in “ordinary”—a generally quiet existence, each doing our own thing in the world, trying to live life as genuinely good people. We lead “ordinary” lives. And, you know, that’s where the Lord most often comes to.
Of course, he enters the massive Temple, too; he preaches in the Synagogue. We find him in cathedrals and in gold chalices. We hear him speaking through inspiring preachers and leaders. We see his handiwork in the grandeur of creation. God is present in magnificence, for sure. But he’s also—and perhaps more often so—found around things which are just...common, regular, even unimpressive.
And so, if our home life—if our own particular domestic church—is what we’d call “ordinary,” that’s not a reason to think that God Almighty doesn’t—or won’t—live there. And, really, what better season is there to remember this than Christmas.
The Letter to the Hebrews puts onto Jesus’ lips the words of Psalm 40, where Jesus says: O God, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me [that I might do your will]” (Heb 10:5; Ps 40:7). “A body you prepared for me....” That right there is the gist of Christmas: the Word of God became one of us...in a regular human body. God didn’t come to us in a chariot of fire, he didn’t come in a spectacular cosmic show; he came to us in the dark of night, in the lowliness of a manger, through the messiness and blood of childbirth, in order to take on regular human flesh.
It wasn’t a superhuman body that God prepared for him. It was an ordinary body, one that aged with time, one susceptible to illness and disease, one which was quite destructible—just like ours. And, in doing that, God sanctified “the ordinary;” he transformed what we think of as “ordinary” into a vessel of his grace. And so, why can’t God be a part of our ordinary home life? Well, that’s just it: there is no reason why we should think he can’t be a part of (and the head of) our own domestic churches. He can be, and he wants to be.
And this was really a stumbling block for a number of Jews in Jesus’ time. For them, the Messiah was supposed to be the savior of the nation, a revolutionary, a national leader fighting against the occupying Romans and everybody else. The Messiah was supposed to be like another King David, majestic and magnificent. Instead, they got Jesus—Jesus, who spent most of his time putzing around with sinners and the sick and ordinary people in their homes. He certainly didn’t act like people expected the Messiah to act.
And we have to be careful of this, too. Jesus is the Christ, he is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the Son of the living God. But we have to be careful not to think that because of Jesus’ greatness, that he can’t (or won’t) come into the smallness and ordinariness of our home lives. We have to cautious about having our own expectations of what Jesus the Christ will—and won’t—do.
There’s no part of human life, there’s no part of our home life, our family life, the life of our domestic churches, which God wants to be kept out of. There isn’t part of our home lives he doesn’t already know every detail about anyway. And so, we wants to be welcomed into our homes—not just into the living room, but into the kitchen, into the workshop, the laundry room, the bedroom, and even the bathroom.
Wherever there’s happiness in the family, we can welcome God into that. Wherever there are tears and frustration in the home, God wants to share that. Wherever there’s shame and embarrassment, wherever there’s scandal, wherever there is intimacy, we can welcome God into that. That’s all part of our “ordinary” lives, and Christ comes right into that—if we invite him.
We think of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. She was an outsider and had had many husbands. And Jesus knew all that. But he still came to her. We think of Jesus and those who were blind, and who had leprosy. He didn’t stay away; he came right up to them and their everyday realities. We think of Jesus and the children. “Don’t send them away,” he said, and he crouched down to greet them. The same with the widows and the orphans.
We think of Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever. When Jesus came over, she didn’t try to put on a strong face; instead, she just laid there and invited Jesus into the reality of her sickness. Then there’s the story of the Prodigal Son. The son came back home, probably all dirty and smelly. But the father embraced and kissed his son just the same. Our Lord has a history of coming into the messiest parts of his people’s homes. And that’s where he wants to be in our homes, too. He wants to be welcomed into the ordinariness of our lives—our individual lives and our family lives, not to intrude, but to help.
The Jews were right about the Messiah in expecting the Messiah—the Christ—to be the savior of the nation. They were right about that. But they didn’t realize the Messiah would save the world in such an inefficient and small-scale way: by going into the homes of ordinary people, one by one, one family, one village at a time. Of course, Jesus knew something then that we know today: that the health of the domestic church is the foundation of everything else. If you want to save the nation, you have to save the home first. The home—and the heart—is where salvation begins.
Not the perfect home, not the perfect heart, but the ordinary home, the ordinary heart, where there is both strength and weakness, virtue and sin, love and fear. That’s where God most often does his thing: in the ordinariness of our home life, in the ordinary, everyday life of our domestic churches.