Today is the first Sunday in Advent. This is the time to prepare to celebrate the coming of our Lord Jesus. It's a time to reflect on the many different aspects of Jesus' coming and to understand better how each one affects us. On each of the Sundays of Advent I hope to choose some aspect of His coming for you to consider so that your celebration of Jesus' birth would be a great blessing from God.
Today, I'm going to look at what led up to Jesus' birth. Actually, all of the Old Testament has led up to the birth of Jesus. Seeing some of that through our readings from 1 Samuel has been good. The text that I will be using this morning looks at one particular slice of all that led up to Jesus' birth. The text is the genealogy in Matthew 1. There are things about who our God is and who we are that are expressed in this bit of Scripture. So, let me read that and then point out a thing or two from it. (Matthew 1.1-17)
Now, let's be honest. Most of us don't get especially excited when it comes to reading a genealogy in the Bible. It's just a list of names, most of which are hard for us to pronounce. It just a bunch of names of people who, most of the time, we know nothing about. Reading it seems such a waste. But there it is, part of the Bible, part of God's revelation for our good. So, let's see what we can get out of this.
For one thing, there are some names that we do know. Everybody knows Abraham and David. And there may be a few other names that you remember from somewhere in the Bible. But most of these names belong to people you've never heard about before. So, there's Achim. This is the only time his name shows up in the Bible. Now, Salmon is a bit different. His name shows up two other times outside of this genealogy. But both of those times, once in Ruth and once in 1 Chronicles, his name is in another genealogy. I suppose that means that his claim to fame is that he was the father of Boaz. So, what do we have here? This is a list of mostly ordinary people. Most of them aren't famous. They were born, did stuff and then died. Ordinary people. But what is the result of this list of mostly unknown, ordinary people? It's from this group of people that we get the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. Or to say that a little differently, God used a bunch of ordinary people to produce the Savior of the world. And what was it that these ordinary people were doing that resulted in the coming of the Lord? They were having babies. God used ordinary people doing ordinary things to create something that was anything but ordinary: our redemption. Now, personally, I think that that is a very encouraging thought. And I'd like to develop it so that you can be encouraged, too.
To most people these days there is something not quite right in being called 'ordinary'. It feels slightly insulting. Why is that? Well, it's because we're not supposed to be 'ordinary'. We're supposed to be 'extra-ordinary'. Let me mention how that this has touched me. Every morning I spend some time reading blogs. Some of these blogs are Christian, others not. One theme that pops up on too many Christian blogs is the struggles of being a pastor. There are times when it almost gets to sound like a pity party. The stress, the burn out, the sense of failure. The sad plight of pastors. When I read those blogs I give thanks to God that they are not describing me. And I wonder why these other pastors feel the way that they do. My suspicion is that they are feeling the pressure to be anything but ordinary. A pastor, according to this point of view, is supposed to be leading his congregation into its golden era where lots of exciting things are happening among a growing number of happy and enthusiastic people. But what does he tell himself when this is not what he sees? How does he answer the question 'Why isn't it happening here?' For many of them the answer is, 'I must be doing something wrong'. Some years ago I spoke at the graduation of one of my kids from the Christian school he attended. There was another pastor there who heard me speak. I must have impressed him with what I said as well as confuse him a bit. His response to my talk was, 'What's he doing at that little church?' I think his assumption was that I should leave for a bigger church where my obvious gifts could produce something impressive. And one more. According to one pastor I read, a church of one hundred members is a micro-church. What does that make us?
I'm pretty sure that my situation is not unique. I can't help but think that most of you feel the pressure to stand out, to do something, anything, so that you can avoid being labeled 'ordinary'. That word certainly wouldn't look good on your annual review. 'He's an ordinary worker.' But, you see, this is the attitude of the world in which we live. And yet, in this genealogy we see God using some rather ordinary people doing ordinary things. Here is a list of ordinary people God used to dramatically change the world.
Now, we all know about the famous people, the Abrahams and the Davids of history. And maybe one of the kids here is going to be the next Shakespeare or Einstein. But, frankly, I doubt it. Is that insulting? Is it wrong for me to say that our kids are probably going to be 'ordinary'? But think about it. How many kids have been told by their teachers and others, 'You can be whatever you want to be.' They meant that to be encouraging. But what so many kids have heard is, 'You had better be something special.' And how many struggle with a sense of failure because, they're not something special. They are ordinary people doing ordinary things - and they have such a hard time accepting that. And yet, we know that God uses ordinary people and uses them powerfully.
There's something from one of Paul's letters that fits here.
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
Live quietly, mind your own business, work hard. Or, be ordinary people doing ordinary things as you love one another and proclaim with your lives the power of the Gospel to those outsiders. That's the kind of people that God ordinarily uses to advance His plan.
And that leads to this. What is the result of your faithful ordinariness? What was the result of the faithful ordinariness of Achim or Salmon? Their ordinary faithfulness in doing ordinary things led to the coming of salvation to the world. Did they know that at the time? No. But it is because these two, among others, lived ordinary lives that Jesus showed up. One of these days Jesus will show up - again. How will that come about? I think that the popular notion is that the date is set and what we do doesn't affect Jesus' return one way or the other. One day, just because it's the magic date, Jesus will show up. Really? I don't think so. He will show up the second time because of the same reasons that He showed up the first time. God will use ordinary people doing ordinary things all of which will result in Jesus showing up. Listen to something Peter wrote.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…
What you do will hasten, will speed up, the arrival of the day when Jesus returns. What you do will result in Jesus showing up the second time, just as what Abraham and David and Salmon and Achim and all the others did resulted in Jesus showing up the first time. Peter focuses on 'lives of holiness and godliness'. One way that those traits show themselves is by living quietly, minding your own business, working hard while you love one another. It is the ordinariness of piety that results in the redemption of the world by Jesus. Ordinary people, pursuing their ordinary lives by loving God and loving neighbor - ordinary people change the world. So, you can be ordinary and supremely significant.
So, what do you do with all of this? Consider that genealogy. Think about Salmon or Achim. Their claim to fame is that they and their wives produced babies. And that's it. But God used that ordinary part of life to do something amazing. History will not remember you or me. After a few generations, all we'll be are some letters on a tombstone. We are just ordinary people. Relish that. And relish the thought that God is using your ordinariness. He is using the ordinariness of your day-to-day life. He is using you - ordinary you - to do something amazing. Your life - as ordinary as it is - matters. Enjoy that. And then, relax. And so that you can relax, refuse to give in to the world. It's the world that's trying to push you to become anything but ordinary. It's the world that's trying to get you to want to be someone famous. And aiming for that fame, even in little ways, is so frustrating. It's also very draining. You're not going to be the next Very Important Person. So, don't try. If God drops that into your lap, fine. But until then, relax. Don't be like the world. The people of the world are like that because they do not know the real God, the real God who takes ordinary people and makes them important just by their being ordinary. Those other gods are fake. They are just different disguises that Satan uses. And no good comes from listening to him. All he can do is destroy. And that is what we are seeing more and more these days. So, fight the world and the pressures of the world. Don't conform to what they are chasing.
And help your kids with this. They feel this pressure from their friends and classmates, comparing test scores and sports victories and all the many ways they try to avoid the label, 'ordinary'. Remind your kids that being ordinary is actually better than trying to be something that you are not. Remind them that God uses ordinary people who love Jesus.
Then, last, pray that you would be able to fulfill the role that God has for you as He plays out the different scenes in His world-encompassing drama all of which leads to Jesus’ Second Advent. Fulfill your roles being the ordinary people that you are, living quietly, minding your own business and working hard while you love one another.
Now, having said all of that let me explain what is behind the sermon. It’s just a fact that all of you are being pressured to conform to the world around you. You are being pressured to live in a way that is in rebellion against the God who runs this place. One aspect of that pressure has to do with the expectations you have for yourselves and your children. Satan has been busy. Some of you are aware of this pressure, including the pressure to avoid the label ‘ordinary’, the pressure to become, in some small way, famous, even if it’s just among your Facebook ‘friends’. So, I hope that this sermon is a reminder of what you and your children face and an encouragement to aim at something better than worldly fame. I hope that it is an encouragement to be ordinary so that God can use you to bring about Jesus’ next Advent. Don’t give in to the pressure.
Others of you aren’t very aware of these things. For whatever reason, you’ve just never thought about it. So, I hope that this sermon gets you to think about identifying the pressures of the world around you so that you might fight against them. The goal is to fight the pressure to conform so that you can become pious, ordinary people whom God will use to do amazing things.