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Out of the Ordinary Comes "God With Us"

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

Luke has this amazing way of combining the ordinary and the extraordinary. He starts this whole scene that way, actually, by locating all these events “in the days of King Herod.” Lots of things happened while Herod was king, and on one level this was just one more. Yet on another level, what was taking place was a part of God’s divine and extraordinary activity to redeem the world.

And now we see another ordinary scene—a priest going about his business, but then running late, and people beginning to worry. This kind of thing happens all the time: a teen out late on a date, a spouse not yet home from work, a friend who was supposed to call. This time it’s a priest who is inexplicably long at his duties in the sanctuary. Yet when he comes out, quite literally speechless because of his encounter with the angel, the people gathered around know something extraordinary has happened: He has seen a vision.

Finally, there is the ordinary misery of Elizabeth, who has never been able to bear a child in a culture where that was all-important. “Ordinary” and “misery” may seem odd words to combine, but I think they are far more common than we might want to admit. We get used to the depression or unhappiness of a spouse or child, we grow accustomed to the life-denying routines of our culture, we resign ourselves to work that feels purposeless. Ordinary misery is just what it sounds like, no less for Elizabeth than for us.

Then she conceives—receiving simultaneously the gifts of new life, new identity and the continuation of her family—and everything changes. Extraordinary.

And she knows exactly what’s happened. God has looked favorably upon her. That is, God has seen her ordinary misery and done something about it. Because misery should never be ordinary. Not for Elizabeth, not for us.

Which is why, I think, Luke takes such care in contrasting the ordinary and extraordinary. Because while we’ve grown accustomed to misery and disappointment and sadness being ordinary, often we look for God somewhere “out there,” distant or apart from our daily lives. Like God only shows up for the truly holy people, or only appears on a mountaintop, or only at church or only on Sunday. And I think Luke wants to help us see every ordinary moment is infused with God’s extraordinary love and presence and God desires to meet us exactly where we are, amid the ordinary, routine, even mundane elements of our life.

Which is maybe why Jesus is called “Emmanuel”—God is with us.

Prayer: Dear God, help us to see you in the ordinary and everyday elements of our lives and to help others to discover your desire to meet us always just where we are. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

From David Lose’s on-line Advent devotional and is used by permission.

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David J. Lose holds The Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for Biblical Preaching.