There’s Zachariah and Elizabeth, simple, God-fearing, ordinary folk who’ve trodden that lonely and heartbreaking road of infertility. Their hopes dashed again and again until finally they come to terms with the reality that they will never experience parenthood and there’d be no child to continue the family name. Time lessened the grief, but the ache never really went away … the sadness … the longing … the shame.
Then one day Zachariah was just doing what priest do, when the angel Gabriel arrived to tell him God had heard his prayer and his elderly wife would give birth to a son. And what’s more, his son, John, would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and prepare the way for Jesus, who was yet to be born. That would have taken a bit of processing.
True to the angel’s word, Elizabeth did conceive and Zachariah remained speechless until John was born.
Then there is Mary, a teenage servant girl, a virgin, betrothed to a carpenter. There’s the long dusty road to Bethlehem, a manger and the lowliest of births.
And shepherds in the fields, minding their sheep in the stillness of the night. Some commentators suggest that the shepherds concerned were the ones who cared for the temple sheep, the sacrificial lambs. Their fields were on the edge of the city not far from where Jesus was born. Whoever they were, they were men who knew something about hard physical work, strong men, hardened by an outdoor life in the summer heat and the bitter winds of winter.
The sovereign God of the universe, the creator of all things, chose humanity amongst the most ordinary of this world.
God continues to work through the ordinary, everyday, in exceptional ways. Over the last few months this has come to me again and again as I’ve encountered stories of God doing the impossible through the lives of people who would have considered themselves quite commonplace.
Let me share just one of those stories.
Then one Wednesday he heard that if he went to St Barnabas' on Broadway, after the minister preached, you could get a cup of tea and a rock cake. Along with some other alcoholics, Arthur headed for the rock cakes. That night he met Rev Hammond, a man who had given his life to helping alcoholics find a better life.
Arthur was unprepared for what happened next. Through the sermon that night he was convicted by the spirit and gave his life to Christ. From that day forward he never drank a drop of alcohol. With the help of Rev Hammond he turned his life around and began a ministry to men who were where he had been. He was put in charge of a hostel that Hammond had set up to provide accommodation for alcoholics. He also visited men at Callan Park mental asylum, a leper quarantine station at Little Bay and The Sydney Night Refuge run by the Methodist church. HIs ministry was to the despised and rejected of Sydney ... "as you've done it unto the least of these my brethren, you've done it unto me".
For the next 35 years he would rise at 4am, pray for an hour and then head out to write his one word sermon outside railway stations, hospitals, pubs and on suburban footpaths. He became an enthusiastic evangelist sharing the gospel on street corners in Sydney. Ironically, eternity alone will reveal the impact of his writing, but this humble man would have been thrilled to see that word emblazoned across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on Christmas Eve 1999.
And God isn’t finished with Arthur Stace yet. After his mother abandoned him when he was seven, he was fostered by a woman who lived on a farm just out of Goulburn, NSW. He attended Goulburn Public School where he learned his beautiful copperplate writing. This is the school my grandson attends and at their final assembly last week the headmistress told them the story about a seven-year old boy named Arthur, who had attended the school.
I wasn’t there but my daughter told me that it was a powerful message to the children, one they will not likely forget. Arthur died in 1967 at the age of 83 but God continues to use his story to challenge future generations.
The incarnation reminds me yet again that nothing is impossible with God. Nothing in my life is beyond his intervention. And best of all, it reminds me that he delights to take very ordinary people like Zac and Elizabeth, shepherds and fishermen, hopeless alcoholics and you and me and work through us in ways we may never know ... for his glory.