Advent Week 3 – A Very Ordinary Life – Joy

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“Don’t be put off by the ordinariness of the means of joy, for in that ordinariness is hidden the extraordinary riches of the Gospel.”  Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas

For years I was the “run into Target for one thing, spend $100″ girl. I need this shirt, laundry detergent, a 500 pack of cards, and new measuring cups.

But then job leads dry up and so do needless shopping trips. Unemployment squeezes a lot of unnecessary out of a life.

Not too long ago, I walked into Target for the first time in nearly a year. It felt like coming back to a hometown. I knew how to navigate the aisles, but it was all so foreign.

I stayed away from Target like an alcoholic stays away from a bar. Pennies were ruthlessly counted. Retail emails had to go. I counted up how many hours I would need to work at my part-time job to pay my bills. I bought travel size toothpaste and laundry detergent with the hope that by next paycheck, I would have enough for more. One month, I slipped my rent check in the mailbox and was so overwhelmed with gratitude, I welled up with a flood of tears. I didn’t think I would have enough. I didn’t think I would make it.

(Pause: I understand how very first-world this is. I know thousands of people across the country–not to speak of the millions of people in the world who will never even know the provision of having bills to pay–live this way every day and I feel your weariness in just a small way. If I could carry every burden, to ease this for just a bit, I would. I see you.)

A lot of glitter fell off my life in those months. That’s ok. I was never meant to wear a ton of it anyway.

This Christmas caps off a tough year for many of us. I’m not sure what, if anything, was lost this year, but there are many who are dragging beat-up lives into the holiday season and certainly do not feel like we belong. Loss–a job, a miscarriage, a relationship–tends to make us feel less-than and we feel it a little more at Christmas. We set our lives up against Christmas glitz and wonder why we are stuck gleaning leftover wheat from the fields. We look at our glitter-less lives and are sure something is wrong with us.

Christmas with all its finery doesn’t really do anything to help. We can’t dump a bunch of presents and cookies into our empty bank account or wombs and hope the hurting stops.

We feel so very forgotten.
So. very. ordinary.

***

The nativity narrative is remarkable in part because how pedestrian it is. A quiet town, a normal couple, B-list guests. Jesus spent his first minutes on earth in an animal feeding trough. Mary and Joseph were homeless refugees fleeing a crazy ruler that balked at the thought any common boy-king.

The only person in this story that felt very holiday-shiny was Harrod. And he was crazy.

Yet here is Jesus. Our hope. Our King. Our joy. Our everything.
Joy birthed out of the ordinary nothing.

***

I’m glad Jesus wasn’t born in a blaze of posh glory. There was a weariness. It was dirty and plain. Simple feels more holy.

I’m not buying a ton of presents this year. My calendar isn’t very full. I’m not making a load of plans for the new year. These weeks are simplified because they have to be. But in a way, it feels more me. Less glitter, less fuss.

Way more joy.

Loss has ushered in a whole host of things for a long time I believed were bad. These days, I see the good too. The quiet, peace that passes understanding, hope, deep-longing prayers I would never pray otherwise. Books, friends, space, time.

I bet those of us who have lost something or someone this year could say the same. If not yet, eventually. It takes time for joy to renew.

This week, South Carolina had rare December snow. All the houses are decorated for Christmas, you can see lighted trees through windows, snow falling outside. It was as Currier and Ives as the South will get.

I pulled a blanket out to my porch, bundled up, sat with a book and a Santa mug of coffee, and watched it snow. All was calm. And bright. My heart grew ten sizes that day. Joy birthed right out of these ordinary times.

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

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