Meeting God in the ordinary
I once heard a story about the famous Italian artist, architect, and sculptor, Michelangelo who, near the end of his life, was commissioned to undertake a major renovation of St Peter's Basilica, a cathedral in Rome.
At this point Michelangelo was very famous and he wanted workers for the project who did not just want to take home a paycheque, but who were passionate about working on such a holy and important house of God.
And so, he disguised himself and went in search of workers to interview. As time passed, he became discouraged. It seemed most labourers simply wanted the paycheque; for them, the project did not matter.
Eventually, Michelangelo found himself in northern Italy where he came across a construction project where a small, rural church was being built. It was getting late and most of the workers had clocked off however there was one old man still on site, busily mixing cement.
Michelangelo interrupted him and asked, "What are you doing?" The man stopped his mixing, then turned to the church being built and replied, "I'm building a cathedral!" Michelangelo hired him on the spot.
This week was the last week of Advent, the season in which we look forward to the coming of the Saviour of the world on Christmas Day and, traditionally, during this week, we think about Mary, the mother of Jesus.
She had an encounter with an angel who told her she was "highly favoured"; selected and singled out; hand-picked by God to be the bearer of his Son. But get this, she was not chosen because she was special. She had not done anything to deserve God's favour. She did not come from a remarkable family line. She was not wealthy or important (in a worldly sense). Mary was an ordinary girl, doing ordinary things.
We need to be careful in our retelling of the Christmas story, not to see it through rose-tinted spectacles or, like the front of a Christmas card, bathed in a soft, warm, cozy light.
The characters in the story were real people with real lives. They lived, they breathed, they made mistakes, they earned a living, they laughed, they played, they cried, they stubbed their toes, burped, got rashes and, occasionally wondered, when they woke up with a hangover, if they had had a little too much wine the night before.
And Mary? She was called to do the most ordinary and natural thing in the word – to be a mum. Despite parenthood being the most wonderful undertaking, when you are called to be a parent, you also have to do the most mundane and seemingly trivial things. You have to feed your child and make sure it eats its broccoli, clean up after it when it spills Lego all over the floor, soothe it when it wails, kiss their boo-boos better when they fall over, sit in parent-teacher consultations, read report cards, kick them out of bed, make them do their homework, and so on. The list is endless, however, when it dawned on Mary what God was doing in and through her ordinary life, she was filled with such joy that she could not help but burst into song!
Check out these lines that she sang, paraphrased from The Hip-Hop Gospel:
"I raise my gaze because my soul’s ablaze
Give it up to my Lord, the Holy God that I praise,
For he’s keen and seen between the fat and the lean
He caught me, and brought me and made me a queen.
With a mighty arm he’s wowed the crowd
He’s disarmed the harm of the loud and proud
He’s knocked off princes from their throne
He’s lifted up the humble and crowned the unknown
The message keeps playing, God’s conveying,
He’ll keep his promises and there’s no delaying!"
Sometimes, you may feel like the trivial things in your own life are unimportant, like you are metaphorically mixing cement however, like Mary, you too are chosen by God; selected and singled out, hand-picked by God to be the bearer of his Son.
The cathedral that, together as God's people, we are building is to bring honour and glory to God in all we do; to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and be witnesses to God’s love.
So, my prayer, this Christmas, is that when you find yourself doing everyday, mundane, and perhaps trivial things, you will remember that there is no such thing as just cement mixing, there is only cathedral building – and may your hearts be filled with such joy, that you too will burst into song.
Rev Gav is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm