The first Christmas story is marked by extraordinary happenings. Though two of the Gospels record the miraculous conception and birth of Christ, Matthew emphasizes the supernatural elements the most. A virgin discovers that she will have a child (Mt. 1:18). When her husband-to-be discovers this, he decides to end the engagement. But, an angel appears to him in a dream (1:20) and tells him that this child was the fulfillment of prophecy (1:23). That’s right, Joseph, your fiancee is expecting a child that was foretold by the prophet Isaiah. Pretty extraordinary, right?
The supernatural phenomena around Jesus’ birth continue throughout the early chapters of Matthew. A star announces His birth to wisemen from a faraway land (2:2). They follow the star to the land of Israel and arrive at Herod’s palace. If a king is to be born, where better to look than the royal house? However, the chief priests provide yet another supernatural sign by revealing that the prophet Micah foretold the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem (2:6). They find the holy child, worship him, and lavish gifts on him. A dream warns them of telling Herod of Jesus’ location (2:12).
Soon after, Joseph receives another angelic dream and is instructed to take the child to Egypt to escape Herod’s maleficent intent and to fulfill yet another Old Testament prophecy (2:13-15). Even Herod’s murderous rampage against the innocents was foretold by the prophets (2:17, 18). An angel notified Joseph of Herod’s death and instructed him to return to the land of Israel (2:19), and another dream led the holy family to Galilee rather than Judea (2:22). The decision to settle in Nazareth of Galilee fulfilled another prophecy that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene (2:23).
It is really impossible to read the Gospel account and not be overwhelmed by the miraculous signs and wonders that accompanied the birth of the Savior. Extraordinary miracles, angelic visitations, dreams, visions, and fulfillment of prophecy characterize the entire account. And this should be expected. After all, the coming of the long awaited Messiah was a remarkable moment in history. The Savior of all humanity, who was actually God in the flesh, had made His grand entrance into the world. We expect nothing less than the phenomenal to accompany His coming. The scandal of Jesus is not that He was extraordinary; it is that so much of His life was ordinary.
The scandal of Christmas is that Jesus was born in an ordinary place, in an ordinary manner, to ordinary people. There were a variety of messianic expectations in first century Judaism. Some were expecting a militant Messiah who would defeat Israel’s Roman oppressors and firmly establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Others were looking for a priestly king who would purge the corrupt Temple system and restore righteousness. In other words, the Messiah would be an extraordinary figure, a strong fighter, and/or a capable religious character. No one was expecting the Promised One to be a baby born to a peasant family in a stable. God demonstrated His ability to cloak the extraordinary in the garments of the ordinary. When God wanted to send His Son and our Savior into the world, He sent an ordinary child.
Religious Jews of the first century had a sophisticated theology of space. Israel was the most holy nation. Jerusalem was the most holy city in the nation. The Temple was the mostly holy building in the city. And, the Holy of Holies was the most holy spot in the Temple. This theology of place naturally associated the coming Messiah with the holy city of Jerusalem. However, Gabriel did not appear in Jerusalem but in the hills of Galilee. There was a religious bias against the land of Galilee because of the presence of Gentiles since the days of Isaiah. This is why it was sometimes mockingly referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt. 4:15). It was among the most unlikely places for God in the flesh to arrive. This theme is reiterated throughout the birth narratives. The announcement came in Mary’s pedestrian home, rather than in the prestigious Temple. The angels’ song echoed in the rural fields, rather than the royal halls.
Jesus’ birth redefines the theology of space. God is not confined to metropolitan centers; His voice can be heard in agrarian areas. God’s presence can be experienced inside a beautiful cathedral or underneath a tree, in a church pew or on a bar stool. God shows up in the ordinary. He is just as likely to be found in the poor house as He is to be found in the White House. Christmas shows that the ordinary can be extraordinary and the natural can be supernatural.
The Messiah was birthed by peasants rather than priests or Pharisees. One would expect the Great High Priest to be born into a Levitical family. Or, perhaps the Righteous One should belong to a family of Pharisees. After all, they were the guardians of righteousness. The religious elite often scorned commoners because they could not afford to frequently pilgrimage to Jerusalem to participate in the sacrificial system and because they lacked the education to understand the minutiae of the law. However, God chose to entrust His Son to humble and lowly peasants.
Ordinary people are continually highlighted in the birth narrative. Luke informs us that Gabriel first appeared to Mary, a woman, rather than Joseph. Jesus’ birth is announced to shepherds and Gentiles rather than priests and kings. The elderly duo of Simeon and Anna are the only people in the Temple to recognize His potential. The religious hierarchy castigated commoners, but God trusted them with the Christmas message. The Holiday Season is a reminder that there are no extraordinary people; there are only ordinary people that trust in an extraordinary God.
The supernatural phenomena, such as fulfilled prophecies, angelic visitations, and dreams, highlighted at the beginning of this article certainly capture our attention. But, many of the circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth are unexciting and mundane. He was born while His parents were journeying to Jerusalem for a census. Unless you really like numbers and counting, censuses are not exciting.
Furthermore, He was born in a cave surrounded by animals. The greatest moment in history was void of paparazzi and pizzaz. There was just a man, a woman, a baby, and some barn animals. This is a great encouragement when we find that our lives are ordinary, humble, and seemingly average. Mundane moments are ripe for miracles.
Shortly after His birth, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to escape King Herod’s ruthless massacre of the infants. The one who would bring peace on earth was born in the midst of senseless violence motivated by selfish ambition. This is a great encouragement when we find that our lives are tumultuous and tragic. God is more than capable of sending His best blessings into the worst situations.
Does your life appear ordinary right now? The promise of Christmas is that God will work through ordinary people in ordinary places in the midst of ordinary circumstances. This is the most wonderful time of the year. Not because you are wonderful, but because the One who is came and dwelt among us.