Are you ready for things to get back to normal? I expect I’d get a wide range of responses to that question. Parents who have been trying to keep children entertained during a two week holiday with nothing but rain, sugar, and excitement are probably very ready for school to be back in session. People who have been on an extended break from school or work might not be as ready to plunge back into the routine. I think most people thrive on routine and look forward to holidays as a change of pace, but are happy to return to normal.
This week the Christmas decorations will come down here and will be stored away for next year. My guess is that in stores they have already been replaced with Valentines candy and cards. Next Sunday will begin the first period of “Ordinary Time” in the church calendar. I am well aware that by another calendar there is one more week of extraordinary time left! In one sense it is hard to think about moving from all of the radically unexpected things happening in the Christmas story to normal, ordinary time, so quickly. But it happens, and actually the majority of our lives is probably lived in pretty ordinary time, punctuated occasionally by the extraordinary.
And so in the short verses I read a moment ago we move from the astonishing prophecies uttered in the Temple by Simeon and Anna about the baby Jesus to a summary of the next 30 years of Jesus’ life. Joseph and Mary and Jesus returned to Nazareth, where “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.” Luke tells us one more story, about the family going to the Temple for Passover when Jesus was twelve years old, but that is the only tidbit any of the Gospel writers give us about this 30 year period. It sounds as though most of the life of Jesus was lived in pretty ordinary time.
Normal, ordinary time is good. It is important. It is the time when we are able to grow and become strong and be filled with wisdom. On Thursday, football players from four universities entered extraordinary time with bright lights turned on and the eyes of the world turned on them as they played for a championship. How they performed on that night was very important, but more important was how they had prepared on ordinary days for many, many years. The discipline of going to the weight room all year round to build strength; running even on the hottest days to develop endurance; developing fine motor skills through endless repetition; studying plays and analyzing other teams’ strengths and weaknesses and other players’ strengths and weaknesses. Eating the right foods, keeping away from the distractions and temptations. Overcoming injuries, disappointments, criticism. The preparations made on those countless normal days are what prepared them to be their very best on the extraordinary day that was Thursday.
As we begin a new year and move back into normal days and business as usual, this is an important principle to keep in mind. What we do each and every day is important. How we spend the ordinary days will determine how we will handle the extraordinary days that come in our lives. When challenges arise in our families, in our workplaces, at school, how we will handle them will be determined by how we have used our time on ordinary days. If you have not made any resolutions yet, here are some ideas.
The first is one you know I’m going to bring up as a pastor. It is to make time to read and study your Bible. The more you know the stories of the Bible, and the more inspirational verses you can call to mind, the more resources you will have to draw from when a crisis or opportunity arises in your life. Just as the football player can’t wait till the day before the game to start lifting weights or studying the playbook, so you can’t wait till you’re in the midst of a crisis to try to make sense of the Bible.
The second is the discipline of prayer. When you come to a crisis moment you want to have cultivated this regular conversation with God to the point that it just comes naturally. It is not a very good feeling in that position to have to say, “God, I know we haven’t talked in a long time, but…” I’m not saying God won’t be listening, I’m saying it will be more an act of desperation than turning to a trusted companion.
The third is the building of relationships. I don’t mean communicating by devices. I mean sitting down face to face and having conversations and getting to know people. People in your family, people you work with, people in your church, people in your neighborhood. People you have a lot in common with and people you don’t. Learn to have genuine conversations and listen as well as talk, finding out what makes people tick and what their hopes and fears are. When you build relationships many of the potential crises are averted before they even happen, but others are more manageable.
The fourth is to practice unselfishness and generosity. Our instincts for self preservation and hoarding are so strong, that the practice of unselfishness and generosity are some of the best training we can give ourselves on normal days to prepare us for the living of extraordinary days. This is tied in with that first one about spending time with Scripture, so that we know verses like these: “For what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul in the process?” “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” “Bear one another’s burdens.”
So as you enter a new year, I encourage you to give thanks for each normal, ordinary day. Those days are opportunities to prepare, to get stronger, to grow in wisdom, to develop the character and abilities you will need when extraordinary days arise. When a child is in trouble; when the future of your marriage is in question; when you are faced with a major decision about work; when the doctor comes out with bad news. If you have been training daily and exercising self discipline then you will be much better prepared to handle those days with grace, with faith, with hope and strength.
Today we ordain and install elders and deacons to do the ordinary work which is required day after day for this church to be prepared when the extraordinary days hit. Serving meals, making phone calls, encouraging stewardship and accounting for funds, having bulletins and flowers and elders and greeters and Sunday School teachers and working heat and light bulbs, and on and on and on. It can be seen as drudgery, as same old same old, but in truth it is the essential work of a healthy organism. The way we do it can stave off apathy and atrophy and build a strong, healthy body which is ready when needed in every way.
Also today we will remind ourselves what it means to eat healthy by coming to the Lord’s Table. Here we are reminded that our own strength is not enough, nor is it all we have. We have a Savior who has redeemed every day and given us each day as a gift to be used in his service.
The hymn we will sing after the ordination and installation of officers has a fitting final stanza. It says, “So help me in my unbelief and let my life be true: feet firmly planted on the earth, my sights set high on you.” In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
David J. Bailey
January 3, 2016
Central Presbyterian Church