Maggie H. Johnson

Writer • Speaker

Ordinary Christmas

Today’s post comes from a very dear friend of mine – Ms. Amy Gannett. Amy and I attended college together at Moody Bible Institute, and she quickly became a voice of compassion in my life. I’m extremely excited to have her here today because she’s a ridiculously talented writer. I always resonate with her words and I hope you do as well. If you would like to read more of Amy’s work, you can access her blog here.

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I’m going to hate this Christmas.

The words both surprised and embarrassed me as they slipped from my lips while riding in the car beside my husband. We were driving to the staff Christmas party for the company I had just started working with. And I don’t know if it was the cheap Italian dinner I was anticipating or the nostalgic way the town lights sprinkled the black mass alongside the highway, but I found myself in a mental craze of discontentment. As I stared out that car window, my heart swelled with self-pity, and my heart quickly twisted into a knot of self-righteousness and refusal. In that moment, I didn’t want this job, I didn’t want to be going to this dinner, and I was not looking forward to Christmas.

You see, I have had some grand Christmases along the way. There were the Christmases spent in Chicago with dear friends (like little Miss Maggie) that were full of city lights and festive city folk. There was the Christmas that came on the heels of a three-month missions trip in Africa, in which I had seen both poverty and wealth like never before. There was the Christmas I finally made it home after my master’s program finals. And there was the Christmas in which I could hardly speak when I stepped off the plane, because I couldn’t wait to tell my family I was engaged.

But this Christmas season is different. I don’t feel I have much of a story to tell this year. Perhaps for the first time, the pieces of my life are settling, and I have this dreadful feeling that I will, too. After many years in the library, I have received what I believe will be my last diploma. And in a voracious need to make financial ends meet, I took a nine-to-five desk job, at a modest hourly wage. At the end of many achievements, milestones, and adventures, I find that my life has screeched to halt in an ordinary, routine, day-to-day life that feels daunting to me.

I am not working this job because it is rewarding, but because we have bills to pay. The farthest travel destination in my life is to the local Target, and I haven’t been out of the country in years. I do not have tales of adventure and hardship, but of rather ordinary days in an average office, working a 9-5 job. These days, my existence doesn’t change people’s lives, but keeps the water turned on in our little apartment. I’m not the preacher at this year’s women’s conference, but the quiet attendee who doesn’t know a soul in the room. My life, put simply, is rather ordinary these days.

And all of this caught up to me on that car ride to the Christmas party. I was suddenly struck by the realization that this was my life. This … this nine to five business, of answering phones and emails, and going to a Christmas party where no one will remember my name. And it was all quite disappointing.

I don’t know about you, but I was raised in a stream of Christianity that consistently perpetuated “the next best thing.” I read Radical, and The Jesus Calling, and cried “Amen” in the middle of a silent room while reading. I have done Bible studies in which, at the turning of the last page, I vowed my life would never be normal again. I committed to living revolutionarily, and I religiously fostered a spiritual restlessness within myself. I have climbed to spiritual mountaintops and have sworn I would never come down. I prayed for awakenings and participated in revivals, and somehow all of that seemed much, much easier that the normalcy of the every day dinner dishes and punching the clock.

I find within myself the need of a deeper grace. I need a grace that settles in the valleys between the mountaintops. I need it for the ordinary, common tasks of my everyday life, for when life is not radical or adventurous. I need a grace that meets me in my regular-ol’ unflashy weekends of grocery shopping and hearing my husband well. I need a grace that will meet me in the early mornings of the daily grind, and settle into bed with me each night as I prepare to the exact same thing the following day.

As we left the Christmas party I noticed a small nativity decorating the steps of the Italian chain. In my cynicism I rolled my eyes at the lights and colors used to portray our Lord. They don’t even know that Jesus wasn’t wearing a halo, I thought. They’ve made the nativity so fancy, haven’t they ever seen a barn?

And in my spirit I sensed the fierce and poignant conviction of the Spirit. I had been caught in my own disbelief: on the one hand, insisting that my life should be more radical, and on the other, knowing that when God chose to come to man and offer salvation that He did it in the most ordinary way imaginable: as a newborn baby, completely human, needing breast milk and a blanket, and very likely incessantly crying in a little barn in a little town. No one knew His name when He came to earth, and there was no receiving line waiting for his coming. And though He could have come in endless kinds of commanding ways to bring salvation, He did it through flesh and blood – quite literally. And not only did He do it this way, but He chose to do it this way. His desire was to come to man in an everyday kind of way, without glitz or glamour, and in doing so, to be grace to the world.

And this is my grace this Christmas. This is the grace that fills the cracks of my ordinary life. This grace – this Jesus – is the empowerment I need to go to work each day, to cook and clean on the weekends, and to love my family and church well. This Jesus is the reminder I need that normalcy and routine are not the subplot of the gospel, but the very core of the narrative of salvation that He has written. And in the early mornings of getting ready for work – wearing the same clothes and shoes, and driving the same route each day – this is the grace that wipes the distain for the ordinary from my lips and quiets the cynicism in my heart. In the hours of answering phones on Christmas Eve, while I shovel my car out from under a pile of snow in the chill of the early morning, and when I pay the electric bill, I will hold before myself this Jesus who took great delight in coming to us in the most normal way imaginable. And who, in doing so, became the grace for us all.

I guess this Christmas isn’t going to be so bad after all.

2 Comments

  1. Loved it Amy – Thanks for asking her to share Maggie!

  2. Hi! I just found your blog, Maggie, through Katherine Henson’s blog. Thanks so much for sharing this post. It’s really encouraging for me. I’ve struggled with these sames thoughts in this season I’m in, although this post puts the thoughts in my head on paper in a much more eloquent way.

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