Listening to Dan Baumann teach in Herrnhut last week, one thing in particular stuck out to me. It was Dan’s comment that
“What we most need is a fresh revelation of the humanity of Jesus”. [Tweet that].
Now the humanity of Jesus is actually a subject that I have spent some considerable time meditating on–and I devoted an entire extended session to the topic when I was teaching the DTS about JESUS. I’d drawn out three implications of Jesus’ humanity: first, that Jesus understands the frustrations of human limits; second, that he models how to live well as a human being–by the spiritual disciplines; third, that he demonstrates that a limited human being can–through the anointing of the Holy Spirit–do the supernatural works of God.
But Dan made me realise that I have missed something vital! And that thing is what I am now calling ‘the Dignifying of the Ordinary’.
In writing that it strikes me that such a title sounds somewhat pretentious–and Dan would probably have a much more down-to-earth phrase. Maybe ‘Keeping it real’? But my ‘ordinary’ is more defined by Cambridge than by California (in spite of my two months there aged eight), and so we’ll stick with ‘the Dignifying of the Ordinary’. Which, come to think of it, reminds me of another of Dan’s catch-phrases: “Watch out! It’s just another ordinary day!” [Tweet that.]
Anyway, the point is this: that the incredible reality of the incarnation — the very Son of God taking on human flesh permanently — means that all the unavoidably ordinary bits of human life take on an overwhelming significance, simply because Jesus experienced them too. And so they are places where we can–and will!– meet with God! And so they are at the very least dignified, and in fact it might not be too much to also say (at least over the course of time, and into eschatological eternity) sanctified, glorified, and hallowed.
So let’s try and unpack that with regards to a few ordinary activities:
The quote is from Luke’s account of the Last Supper, an event so encrusted with religious traditions and ecclesiastical interpretations that we are forevermore in danger of missing the point that it is one of the most ordinary human activities that there is–eating. I am a huge believer in the importance of eating together–Jesus put such emphasis on eating with people that he was called a glutton and drunkard. And Tim Chester points out the missional opportunity provided by our meals: what if we tried as much as possible to eat every meal together with someone who is not yet a Christian?
“Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.”
It’s difficult to do very much when you are asleep! And it is easy to think that we can only commune with God when we are awake. In his book, The Day Is Yours, Ian Stackhouse observes that though we spend a good deal of our time asleep… there has hardly been any reflection within the Christian community on its theology. But the Psalmist says that God gives sleep to those he loves! Not just rest, refreshment, and restored strength for the new day, but sleep itself. One could mention ‘dreams and visions of the night’ — sleep is a time when we can continue to hear God’s voice. And I’m sure there are other things one could draw from the fact that Jesus slept.
#3 Learning & Growing
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
This is one of the important ones, because it so directly turns upside-down all of our unhelpful notions of what ‘perfection’ means. If we could just grasp something of the significance that Jesus — very God in real humanity — was morally flawless and unchangeably divine, and yet still needed to learn and to grow! If we could grasp this, then it would shatter all of our stultifying perfectionistic hang-ups, widening our hearts to better understand the generous grace of God, and releasing us to run fearlessly in the paths that God has set before us, free from fear of failure and frustration. God’s power is made perfect in the midst of our weakness.
“The kingdom of heaven is like… a feast“
From the opening moment of Jesus’ ministry, when he miraculously produced an extra one hundred and fifty gallons of the finest wine, to his final resurrection appearance, when he had a surprise barbecue breakfast of fried fish awaiting his disciples, Jesus demonstrated a zeal not just for celebrating, but for celebrating in style. What are the occasions in my life that I currently pay little heed to, which I need to truly celebrate? Not just for the opportunity that celebrations present to gather together the neighbours and have a party, but because joyous celebration is the only appropriate response of gratitude to the outrageous and undeserved goodness of God.
What other ordinary activities does the incarnation of Jesus give added significance to?