Earlier this year, I wrote and self-published my first book, “The Jumbo Shrimp Gospel.” The book is about the oxy-moronic nature of the kingdom of God. One of the chapters, “Supernaturally Ordinary,” looks at the birth of Jesus. “JSG” would make a great Christmas present! By one for yourself and one for that special someone. Click on the blue Lulu logo over to the right. Now, onto an excerpt from the book…
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How does Jesus’ incarnation contribute to this idea of a jumbo shrimp gospel?
The Jews expected the Messiah to come in power. He should have been born to extraordinary parents. He should have had an extraordinary education. He should have had extraordinary resources at his disposal.
Instead, the Messiah came in humility. His parents weren’t special. We’re not certain, but Jesus probably didn’t go through the Jewish educational system. He was born in obscurity and raised in poverty.
He was ordinary.
He was supernaturally ordinary, and intentionally so.
By arriving in the way He did, Jesus identified with the poor, the marginalized, and the outcast. His birth did send shockwaves through the local political establishment—a terminally ill and mentally unbalanced Herod tried to have him murdered. Other than that, Jesus’ arrived with no fanfare, except for the armies of heaven proclaiming the King’s arrival to a group of socially unacceptable shepherds. It would be people like this—the impoverished, the shunned, the broken—that Jesus would later call “blessed.”
Throughout the centuries the incarnation of the Son of God has brought hope to those who are spiritually broken, no matter what their economic level. U2 front man Bono once attended a Christmas Eve service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. He had just finished a long tour, and was understandably tired. He was apparently given a seat with a poor view. It was in that circumstance, however, that the Incarnation resonated with him like never before.
“The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in sh*t and straw . . . a child . . . I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry . . . Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this.”
Poor and scandalized, born among animals and straw, and visited by shepherds. Not exactly the way we think the king would chose to arrive. But Jesus’ birth shows us the upside-down nature of the jumbo shrimp gospel.
What can the supernaturally ordinary incarnation of Jesus teach us? Yes, it does show us that God put skin on to identify with mankind. But His simple, humble arrival to planet earth shows us how we are to live among those we wish to introduce to Him.
As I write this, my friend Vince is in the early stages of planting a church on the Las Vegas strip. Vince is spending his entire first year in Vegas talking to people, asking good questions, and finding out the great needs of the city. He’ll take what he learns and plant a church up out of the culture. He’s “incarnating” himself into the Vegas culture.
As we seek God’s leading in figuring out how to reverse the American church’s decline, we must look at how we’re starting new churches and making disciples.
Instead of trying to entice people to check out our church’s culture, we should seek ways to incarnate ourselves and our churches into the culture around us. I’m not saying we should so immerse ourselves in the culture around us that we become indistinguishable from it. We are, after all, to be in the world but not of it. But we’ve exerted so much effort making sure that we’re not of the world that we’ve forgotten we are in the world.
This requires us to incarnate ourselves into our communities. We spend a lot of time studying Scripture for sermons, lessons, or personal devotions. Shouldn’t we also spend time studying the communities where our churches are—meeting people, asking questions, continually learning about the community, and discovering the community’s brokenness in which we serve?
If we would do these things, the churches we lead and plant can not only become relevant again, but they can actually be good news that extends beyond a Sunday service with hip music, slick preaching, and mind-blowing audio/visual presentations.
Homeless people can find shelter. And spiritual refuge.
Sick people can find treatment. And the Great Physician.
At-risk youth can find father figures. And be introduced to their heavenly Father and the Friend that sticks closer than a brother.
The rewards of incarnation are high, but so is the cost. Church leaders, are you willing to risk the backlash that could come from attenders who are satisfied with the status quo and who will grumble that their needs aren’t being met, who may leave (along with their money) in order to find that “perfect church”?
Church planters, are you willing to sacrifice the church in your head in order to follow God and plant a church that is raised up out of the culture you’re going to?
Christians, are you willing to sacrifice what you want out of a church in order to be good news to those who need the jumbo shrimp gospel of the kingdom of God?
We must, as Jesus did, wade into the filth in order to be good news to a broken world in supernaturally ordinary ways.