The world, the flesh and the devil.
These three entities have been said to be the three sources of sin and temptation for Christians. That is to say that when we get it wrong, we can point to the influential lure of culture (the world), the weakness of natural desire (the flesh), and the overarching conspiracy of evil (the devil).
I say ‘and’ instead of ‘or’ because I don’t see these three as mutually exclusive. When a person does something wrong – let’s say: gossip at work – they can point to a) the culture of gossip at their work or in the ‘world’ generally, b) their own tendencies to want to stay ‘in the know’ about what’s going around the workplace, and c) a trans-historic, trans-cultural, quasi-personal gravity gently and subtly pulling people away from healthy and honest communication.
If we neatly point to just one of these three, we open the door to a) victim-hood (“Poor me, it’s so hard to be good in this world/workplace…”), b) shame (“Why am I such a horrible gossip?”) or c) blame (“It was an outright spiritual attack…”).
Acknowledging all three can help us to appreciate afresh the need to stand apart from culture (Romans 12:1-2), the need to acknowledge our culpability for our actions (1 John 1:9), and to be on guard against the old serpent up to its typical schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11).
This Christmas I sit in our living room before heading to bed, typing out a festive blog post. The room feels and looks very ordinary: couches, pillows, television, computer, DVD’s, books and more. Life, most of the time, is ordinary.
Life is exciting and varied enough as it is. We don’t need too many sensational experiences. Highs come. We are property owners for the first time, and are excitedly settling into our new home. Lows follow. My beloved Grandpa passed away the day after my son’s 9th birthday. Even those highs and lows have an ordinary feel to them. The joy of a new dwelling to own, enjoy and remake is tempered by frustrations of having too many things, facing the financial and time cost of renovations, and more. The grief of losing a loved one didn’t fully negate the happiness of waking up Christmas morning to presents and pancakes.
The nativity narratives are laced with the spectacular, and awe-inspiring and the miraculous. Angelic epiphany. Prophetic insight. Virginal conception. It could be just me and my phase of life, but I’m drawn to imagine the lingering ordinary feel that life would have had for Elizabeth, the shepherds, Anna, the wise men, Mary and the others. Elizabeth’s formerly-barren womb would still be subject to the pain of giving birth. The shepherds, hurrying to Bethlehem after the angelic revelation, would have faced all of the familiar and mundane issues of getting themselves there. Mary, despite her exemplary encounter with the angelic messenger, would have three full trimesters of watching her body and womb swell and transform.
And all of this has a beautifully Jesus-shaped dynamic to it. For it is in Him that the spectacular resides within the everyday. Eternity meets time. God joins with humanity. Creator with creation. Word becomes flesh.
Nowadays I am more aware than ever of my simple need for God’s extraordinary strength in every ordinary moment. Highs and lows; strengths and weaknesses; progress and stumbles, what I need is always to open myself to the ordinary process of participating with the Power who makes me just a little bit better, moment by moment.