Seeing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary with Mama’s Glasses

The text for this sermon is Luke 2:1-20.

When my kids were little, they were always so proud of their art work.  Ben would get an Origami book and spend hours folding and creating what he saw on the pages.  Nathan would spread out with his Lego sets and go off the reservation, combining the different objects from the prescribed “recipe”.  Abbey would knead and push on blue, green and yellow Play-doh concentrating on making what she was envisioning in her mind.

Now, what should be heart felt memories actually made me anxious as a parent. The kids would call me into their room excited and proud to show me what they had done. I would look at the paper Ben had folded and all I could see was a paper airplane. Nathan’s Lego combinations always looked like some sort of monster. And I never said this aloud but Abbey’s Play-doh creations looked like something unspeakable from the neighbor’s dog. I was anxious because I so desperately wanted to see what they saw.

In an article I read this week by a pastor, Rosanne Swanson, she said in these moments as a parent she had to put on her mama’s glasses. They presented something extraordinary to me and without mama’s glasses all I could see was the ordinary. With mama’s glasses the ordinary colorful clay pushed together became a car, the carefully folded paper was obviously a dove and the Lego’s jammed together certainly a well-equipped soldier.  With mama’s glasses, I could see what they saw, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary.

Sometimes, I think the heart of faith is learning how to see out of mama’s glasses because mama’s glasses are really God’s eyes.  When we are able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, then we are beginning to see the creation as God sees it. It is not easy to do, little about faith is easy, but Christmas Eve is a good time to try on mama’s glasses.

The story is really pretty ordinary and unfortunately as likely today as it would have been then. An occupying force arbitrarily makes a poor young couple move from one village to another at a time that is not just inconvenient but downright dangerous. Alone, no one had compassion for this teenager about to give birth.  No one would make room in their day or in their house for either her or husband. In an act of charity someone “graciously” allows them to use a stable as a nursery. Rome doesn’t care.  The residents of Bethlehem don’t care.  Even the one family that does have some compassion cares just enough to slightly inconvenience their goats and sheep.

The angels, though, sound exactly like a four year old showing us their art. “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Their mama’s glasses are firmly in place. When those shepherd’s found Mary, Joseph and Jesus in that stable in Bethlehem, they had to have had a moment where they cocked their head, and thought to themselves, what exactly are we supposed to be looking at again, a savior?  Somehow, though, through mama’s glasses, God’s eyes, they could see the extraordinary in the very ordinary.

It is almost as if the church doesn’t trust people to pull out mama’s glasses any longer. We punch up this story to make it look as extraordinary as possible.  Mary glows in most paintings of this scene. I don’t mean glowing like the way we describe young mothers who are flushed with exhaustion. She glows like Homer Simpson after he swallows a hunk of uranium at the nuclear plant in Springfield. The animals in the stable are all kneeling and looking with awe at baby Jesus. Not one of them seems to be thinking, Hey, who put the baby in our feeding trough? What, are we supposed to eat around him?

Even I don’t trust you to see the extraordinary in the ordinary tonight. To make sure you get it, I have lined up choirs and trumpets, tons of flowers, candles and a grand procession.  We are throwing the kitchen sink at you and I still worry whether it is extraordinary enough. Maybe, we need red balloons this year to make it really special.

I worry, because I know at the end of the day Messiah is by most standards ordinary. We are a middle sized church in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, not St. Peter’s in Rome. By size, we aren’t even extraordinary on Waggoner Road. Here telephone repairmen become vocal soloists, Dispatch reporters play the trumpet, nurses, mechanics and physical therapists serve communion, accountants, secretaries, engineers and IT people put out the luminaries and a balding middle aged man preaches. On paper it all seems pretty ordinary. Maybe, so ordinary that you won’t get the extraordinary message, that God has come to us in Jesus to save us forever.

In my most anxious moments, just like when I was a parent of four year olds, I need to take a deep breath, put on mama’s glasses and see the world as God sees it. There is likely a reason this story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus is so ordinary. God is God. God could have come up with all sorts of crazy cool ways to beam down and be with us. I have read enough fantasy and science fiction books to throw out twenty mind blowing entrances right now for God. Yet, God chose this way, this place, these parents, that night, that village, those witnesses. God comes to us in the ordinary. God claims the ordinary as His because God sees the extraordinary underneath, above and within Mary and Joseph, you and me, all of creation. With eyes of faith, the love of God, mama’s glasses, whatever we want to call it, we can see the extraordinary, too.  All the extras of Christmas Eve are great, but all we really need to see the extraordinary in the ordinary is mama’s glasses.

A year ago, Glenn visited our church for the first time on Christmas Eve. Glenn came full of grief because his mother had just died on Thanksgiving. He hoped to experience something extraordinary that would begin to heal the pain he was feeling, answer the questions he was asking, and make sense of the senselessness around him.

Honestly, Glenn left a little disappointed. There was no epiphany, nothing that made sense of his loss, or eliminated his grief. Yet, Glenn came back. In the last year, he has become a presence in our worship on Sunday, attends our adult education classes, serves in our clothing ministry, and reads the scripture in our assembly. Somehow, like the shepherds that night, like mothers and fathers since time began, like God from the heavens, somehow in this very ordinary place, Glenn sees something extraordinary.

How? Mama’s glasses. He sees us as God sees us, who is always wearing mama’s glasses. What allows us to see the extraordinary in our kid’s art projects is the same thing that allows God to see the beauty in our selfish, shameful lives and is the same thing that allowed the shepherds to see the beauty in a crying, dirty baby lying in a filthy manger. It is love. Love is what makes this place extraordinary, because it is the very presence of God. Love is what causes members to tell me that was the best sermon ever, when I know it wasn’t even the best sermon preached that day on this street. Love is the presence of God with us, revealed when baby Jesus cried his first cry. Love is what draws us together as church that Glenn discovered. Love is what mama’s glasses are made of.

Faith is the ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. God comes to us every day, in multiple ways and to see it, we just need to wear mama’s glasses. Once we put them on, once we are filled with God’s love, nothing ever looks the same again; even piles of Play-doh can become works of art. Stop, close your eyes, breathe deeply, trust God’s presence in this very ordinary place, put on those glasses.  Now, open them and look, see God’s creation as God sees it. As ordinary as this place is, it is pretty extraordinary, and I didn’t even need red balloons. Amen

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