You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are from the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the LORD’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And he will be the source of peace.
I grew up obsessed with SportsCenter, the flagship show on ESPN. Hardly a day passed without me watching it. Nothing rivaled SportsCenter. Nothing. I’ll tell you why.
SportsCenter focused on highlights. The most explosive dunks. The longest home runs. The biggest stars. None of that extra fluff you see today. These sports shows with their expert commentary and passionate debates bore me beyond tears. Is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback ever? Will he play until he’s 50?
Just show Lebron dunking over that dude again.
Great sports shows focus on highlights. Great lives do not, however.
Too often, I admit, I live for the highlights. We all do this, don’t we? The mundane and ordinary bore us. When will the next highlight come?
What this does is it keeps us from living in the moment, which is, by the way, the only way to experience God’s presence. When we reminisce about our past highlights, when we fantasize about ones to come, we can’t know God.
Too much of my life has been lived for the next season. In high school, I couldn’t wait to leave home and the oppressive rules of my parents (a laughable thought for anyone familiar with my upbringing). When I leave this place, I thought, then I can experience life.
Well, I arrived on campus. The newness of being on my own seemed to confirm my high school self’s hypothesis. I was finally enjoying life.
This lasted a few weeks or months, then college became monotonous, with its laughable amount of free time and occasional studying and all-the-time socializing. I was ready for the next season. When I graduate, get out on my own, start making big boy money and buy my own place, I thought, then all will be well.
After four years and a victory lap, I graduated, began making big boy money and bought my own place. I loved it. I was finally living.
You know what’s coming next, right? The 8-5ness, Monday-Friday life quickly became ordinary. And the bills, I mean, those dudes always, ALWAYS!, arrived at exactly the same time every month. How boring.
So, I began fantasizing about the next big thing – a new job, getting married, starting a family.
You see what’s happening, don’t you? Peace and contentment and the good life were always around the corner, always an arm’s length away.
We do this in all types of situations. Parents with infants, working on three hours of sleep, fantasize about a day when little Sally can wipe herself.
People who hate their job fantasize about 5 o’clock Friday afternoon.
When life seems less than good or too ordinary, we run away to our minds and dream up big dreams about “someday”…
The Incarnation speaks a strong word about our “somedays.” We would be wise to listen.
In Bethlehem, a small, sleepy town, in the pitch black of night, the son of God makes his “grand” entrance. His first bed is a manger. The stench is almost too much to bear. The animals are moo-ing and chirping and grunting. A less than desirable situation.
Can you imagine Jesus’ newborn pictures?
“Hey, could you slide – what’s his name?…yes, Jesus – could you move Jesus slightly to the left? Yeah, the manger too. There’s poo in the frame.”
I mean, c’mon God. Why a manger? Why Bethlehem? This is the Savior. His arrival should be a slam dunk. The highlight of all highlights.
If Jesus came today, I would probably miss him. No, I definitely would. Most likely, the angels would appear to Joe Blow, a nobody, a blue-collar 9-5er who’s just trying to keep to earn a living and love his family well. He would be far too low on the ladder of success for me to validate anything he said, especially some claim about the Savior of the world. To put the proverbial icing on the cake, Mr. Blow would make some ridiculous about angelic being and traveling to see the Messiah in some remote town, Crested Butte, CO, for instance (No offense to my friends in Crested Butte..I hear your little town is quite beautiful).
At which point, I would break out in a gut laugh.
The Incarnation sends an important message…the ordinary moments matter.
The origins of Life and Hope are found in the messy and mundane. Transformation happens in these moments, not in the highlights.
The great task before us is to stop living for the next highlight and start looking for God’s promises in the ordinary and mundane.
God doesn’t just show up on the mountain. He also shows up in the valley. He shows up primarily here, in fact. Could it be we’re looking for Jesus in the wrong places? Could it be we’re discontent, simply holding on and trying to get by because we’re drinking the cultural coffee?
The birth of Jesus demands we change our perspective. Every second of every day is a holy manger, if we have eyes to see.
Every conversation is sacred.
Every stress-filled hour of exam prep…sacred.
Every dirty diaper, every Tuesday night, every hour spent in prayer or Scripture…sacred, sacred and sacred.
Every moment of every day is holy. This declaration travels from a dirty manger in a small town to our living room, workplace, or wherever life has us right now.
This moment, right now, right where we are, is sacred. God is present in this moment. Don’t run from it.
The next time we’re tempted to abandon the present moment for something “better,” we must remember baby Jesus.
Pay attention to this moment right now. In what ways can you see God’s presence?
God, I confess I often don’t look for you because the present moment is too mundane. Give me eyes to see you in this moment, every moment. Amen!