If you know me at all, you will know how much love I have for Christmas and the festive season. I love the twinkling lights, the carols, sitting in front of a fire with mince pies watching a cheesy Christmas movie. I love the Christmas drinks that suddenly appear in the coffee shops, the smell of a real Christmas tree, getting my “craft” on and making a wreath for my front door. I love that there is a sense of joy and anticipation in the air. And every year, I hold my breath for snow on Christmas Day!
But more than that, I love what Christmas means – the birth of Christ; the hope that his life brought to us all, the gift of unconditional love. And as I’ve grown, become an adult and a mother, my reading and understanding of this oh-so-familiar story has grown and developed. What I have come to realise, and I mean truly recognise (not just sing in a carol), is that this extraordinary, wonderful story of hope and love was made up of the most ordinary people.
The birth of Jesus, the Messiah, was told about in the Old Testament. Hundreds of years before the event took place: Isaiah 7:14 “he Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold—the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will name him God Among Us.” It was something the Jewish people were looking for and waiting for. The birth of the saviour of the world, the King of all nations. They were probably expecting a huge, loud celebration, a feast; for Jesus to come into the world with a bang. Something special and extraordinary. Instead, what they got was a teenager, a stable birth and some smelly shepherds. Quiet, humble, lowly, ordinary. Not really the picture they had imagined.
Right from the start, God chose the ordinary. He chose Mary. Mary was a teenage girl, engaged to Joseph, both from Nazareth (which wasn’t a logical choice for a king either, but I’ll come to that!). She was poor. Her life would have consisted of doing household work, including physically strenuous tasks. She would have been illiterate, and, being from Nazareth in Galilee, she would have been looked down on by most of the world around her. By all accounts, there was nothing special about Mary at all. She was absolutely ordinary. Mary loved God and wanted to serve Him with all her heart (Luke 1:38; 45). But she was just a poor girl in an insignificant town, from a humble family, with little expectations that her life was going to be any different than most. Except, she had a deep faith and trust in God, and that set her apart from other women her age. She thought she was ordinary, but God had other plans. She was chosen all those years ago. She was destined for the extraordinary.
What is the significant of Nazareth, and why wasn’t it a logical place for a king? Nazareth was an insignificant town, way out in the sticks, likely full of farmers, shepherds and labourers. Many would have built their homes in and around the soft limestone caves that littered the area, as this was the least expensive form of housing at that time. Nazareth was considered a place of low social status. In John 1:45-46 we read that Nathaniel asks Philip “can anything good come out of Nazareth!” It was nothing like it’s neighbour town of Sepphoris. Sepphoris was affluent, and full of culture, shops, luxury villas with extravagant tile mosaic floors. It was the place to be. Nothing like Nazareth at all.
So why Nazareth and not Sepphoris? Setting the story of Jesus’ life in Nazareth, choosing Jesus’ Earthly parents to be from Nazareth, tells us that God looks for the meek and the humble to use for His greatest work. This is a theme that can be seen throughout the bible: He chose the slave people (Israel) to be His chosen people; He called the youngest of Jesse’s sons (David) to be Israel’s greatest king. He chose Mary, from the lowly town of Nazareth to bring the saviour of all people into the world.
There’s also a thought that the word “Nazareth” stems from the Hebrew word “Netser”, which means branch or shoot. In Isaiah 11:1 – 4,6 we read how “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a Branch will bear fruit”. Netser was a promise of hope, that although Israel had been cut down, she would rise once again. People hoped for the coming ‘branch’ – the Messiah. So for Mary and Joseph to hail from Nazareth, and for Jesus to grow up in Nazareth somehow seems to fulfil that. As one author put it “out of the humble, broken stump, comes the righteous branch that will save the world”!
After all that, you would have justified in thinking that Jesus’ birth at least got announced to the important religious people first, or the wealthy and high in society. However, you’d be wrong. Instead, God sent a host of angels (enough to fill the sky) to tell a bunch of shepherds about the birth of Christ.
Being a shepherd was a dirty job, a lowly job. It was considered detestable in cultures like Egypt. If you were a shepherd you earned yourself no rank in society. You had little to no value, no power, no influence. People did not want to be associated with shepherd. Yet, it was to these group of outcasts that God chose to announce the most wonderful and significant news in the whole of history.
Had God lost the plot? Why did He choose to trust the lowest members of society with the greatest truth? Firstly, the shepherds had the ability to be humbled and amazed. Imagine how unworthy they must have felt, with society telling you constantly that you are worth nothing. But now, here are more angels than you could ever count, telling you the most important news, about something that has been anticipated for literally hundreds of years! Jesus’ opinion of the religious leaders of the day gives the impression that their reaction would probably not have been the same. They had a tendency to believe they were better than rest, that they were “owed” certain privileges (like hearing about the birth of the Messiah first!), so it’s unlikely that they would have had the same reverence that such news deserved.
Secondly, they weren’t “too cool” or worried about what others thought. They were too excited to not tell people about what had happened. They did exactly what God wanted and spread the good news of Jesus. To anyone and everyone that they met. Regardless of their social status, regardless of whether they thought they “deserved” to know. Again, probably unlike the important, wealthy and educated would have responded.
To the world, Nazareth, Mary and the shepherd were NOT the obvious choice. The ordinary, the lowly, the outcast. That is not the picture you’d associate with the birth of the king, the saviour of the world. However, this King came for people. All people. Not just the rich, well educated, high society. But the seemingly small, low in society, poor and weak. By using what society classed as ordinary and unworthy, God showed His great love. He started as He meant to go on. He used the ordinary and made it extraordinary.
And he continues to do the same today. Just because you might think that you are ordinary: “just” a teenager, “just a” [insert whatever you may think about yourself here], God can’t or won’t use you, you are wrong. He is not bound by the limitations society, or indeed we as individuals, put on ourselves. He has created us all for a life of greatness, if we just trust Him and believe in Him. Mary was willing to lose everything – Joseph was ready to divorce her, but she chose to follow God’s plan. The shepherd would have know what people thought about them, but they still chose to spread the new about Jesus birth anyway.
So maybe we need to stop thinking of ourselves as ordinary and seeing only our limitations, and instead, start seeing the extraordinary that God put in each one of us. What is God calling you to, that you are too afraid to step into? If you’re not sure, ask Him. It’s time to stop being extra-ordinary, and start being EXTRAORDINARY!