The problem with not blogging for two weeks in order to try to write “other things” is that you don’t really write those “other things” but instead lie around nibbling cookies and cheese and drinking eggnog (except not eggnog, I hate eggnog). Starting again makes you wonder why you ever bothered in the first place. Which, in turn, leads to a wondering about the nature of all life and if anything has any meaning or a point. The wandering one more time over to the cookie box and then back to the couch produces a certain kind of ennui. It’s a good thing this holiday is basically over.
And it is, because today is the last day and Sunday of Christmas, which, alternately, could be about 12-year-old Jesus in the temple, or the visit of the Magi. Either way it is the perilous biblical revelation that there is no such thing as “an ordinary day.”
That’s my greatest desire—an “ordinary” day, especially after a week of lolling around. A day where nothing goes wrong and there are no catastrophes of any kind, either at home or abroad. The kind of day where you wake up and the news is only about new roads being built or old ones mended, and the virtuous legacy of a retiring mayor, and that heroin addiction has miraculously been eradicated.
It is not the kind of day (and this is every day) where you wake up and read about massive fires engulfing almost a whole country, a “world war 3” hashtag trending on twitter, a heartbreaking story about the death of a young mother, how trying to grow avocados and limes is actually a really dangerous business, another store closing down on the parkway, and the demolition of a house where a young person was killed.
This is where the bible is, frankly, such a disappointment to me. Because the mundane boring anchoring bits are left out, the we-woke-up-and-did-our-work-and-nothing-happened-and-then-we went-to-bed are not there. Of Jesus’ whole childhood we know only that he was visited by shepherds and foreign kings, that he was taken to the temple in accordance with the law, that he was bundled off in the dead of night to Egypt to escape death, and then, when he went with his family to Jerusalem for the Passover, as the law requires, he stayed back, causing massive stress and panic for his parents. Luke tells us after that little episode that “he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them,” but that’s it. From thenceforth the gospel writers do not even try to tell us what he liked to eat for breakfast, how tall he was, whether or not he was ever bored or irritated with his disciples and the crowds. In short, nothing about the “ordinary” parts of his life.
Those kinds of impressions have to be gleaned, plucked out wherever they can be found. Like the fact that Jesus, after teaching the pressing crowds, retreats to be alone with his Father to pray. Like the casting of lots for his one single garment. Meaning, that he got tired and also wore clothes. Clothes which somehow had to have been washed by someone, and the food cooked.
I mean, it’s good that we don’t all go reading the bible the way we do blogs—peaking into other people’s lives, the details of their living room remodel, snapshots of their new year declutter, reviews of the ingeniously better coffee making device that will make “ordinary” life more smooth and less of a trial. All that stuff is left out, or a lot of it anyway. You have to fill in the details for yourself in horrifying paragraphs like this one:
“Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
I mean, what does “quickly” mean in this context? And certainly, there was nothing ordinary about that particular visit.
It’s a case of what I think I want versus what I actually get. The bible—and Jesus—are not a how-to manual for a better and more peaceful daily life. Honestly, I can’t imagine how you could take the life of Jesus and make it into a model for your own, though even I sometimes try. If anything, Jesus intensified the traumatic nature of “ordinary” life. More demonic activity presented itself around him than anyone even knew existed. He “healed every one” sometimes, and fed multitudes. He faced down the powers and principalities of the cosmos. Of course, we shouldn’t waste time on how the lamb was cooked. If we knew, we would spend all our time trying to replicate that, and none on searching out who he even is.
What I actually get is the same kind of troubled life that Jesus purposely came into. All those “ordinary” days up in Nazareth, before the epic Passover Trip where his parents started to get the faint and painful glimmer of what it was going to be like living with God in such close quarters, were certainly as bad as “ordinary” days all over the world. Mary went on being despised for the whole of her life. No one ever believed she was a virtuous bride. No one in Jesus’ hometown ever believed that he was the Son of God. People went on getting sick and dying, quarreling with each other, having to mend their houses and deal with blight on their vines. And while they were living the contentious, quiet trouble of life close to home, Rome was spreading her military might far and wide. Her Pax with the world meant that thousands and thousands of Jews were crucified before Jesus was.
Sometimes when the New Year turns over, the whole world pauses in bated breath, wondering if a new decade, a new day will dawn. Maybe 2020 will be better than 2019 was. It’s possible! We will try. And for 24 hours everyone hopes real hard and drinks champagne. And then, a few minutes in, someone dies, and some babies are born, and the collective breath is let out and we all see that we are just as we were before—in the ordinary and ruinous muck of a humanity that cannot avoid evil, cannot really do good, and now has to lose 15 pounds.
This is exactly the meaning of Christmas. Jesus came right into it all. Not to show you how, but to rescue you, to snatch you out of the pit of your own failure and sin. So, I guess maybe just one or two more cookies this afternoon. Then, tomorrow, I swear, I start my diet and my routine.