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  • Mariah Martin

Ode to the Ordinary

Luke 3:1-6

Malachi 3:1-4

Philippians 1:3-11

John the Baptist is kind of a strange guy. He gives off vibes of the seemingly crazy sidewalk evangelist, dressed funny, and spouting hard-to-understand prophesies and warnings—calling people to repentance.

What I love about John is that he dares to call people to action. He dares to believe that people can change for the better. That people can turn their lives around. John begins something that grows beyond himself. In fact Jesus’ followers continue the work of John. He sets the foundation. He sets the stage for discipleship. He prepares people for Jesus. He prepares repentant hearts, ready to hear what Jesus has to say. He makes room for Jesus in people’s lives.

What is amazing about John is that he doesn’t stop at calling for change in individual lives. He works at a personal level, but he also looks beyond individuals and calls for change at a systemic level. He sees that those in power are not doing their best for the people. Something has to change at a bigger level.

This isn’t some slight tweak in politics or religion. This is a total social upheaval.

He speaks using language of terrain, mountains, and valleys: “Heights and depth are to be leveled; the crooked and rough are to be made smooth.”

Everything will turn from the way it was and become something new.

What is more extraordinary than the message John preaches, is his very ordinariness. Yes, John is extreme, he lives on the fringes of society, he eats a starvation diet, he wears ascetic clothing. But at the same time he is so, incredibly ordinary. He is not a king. He has no political power. He was not born of nobility. He was born in a family of priests, yet he is not a priest! He was a simple man who knew his role. He knew he was not the Messiah, but the one who is to come before him. The one who lays out the welcome mat.

He is essentially the side-kick. The secondary character. The one cast as the “weird friend” in the movie—sidelined by the star protagonist.

There is nothing extraordinary about John yet in his incredibly ordinariness, he lives his life to his fullest potential. He holds nothing back. He is the epitome of the Iraneus quote: “The glory of God is a person fully alive.”[1]

John was 100% himself and he lived out his call unashamedly and unapologetically.

John gives me inspiration that it doesn’t take someone with social, political, or religious power or prestige to make a difference. I was so inspired that I created an “Ode to John,” a piece of writing giving thanks for all that is ordinary in life. May it also inspire all that is ordinary in you.

An Ode to the Ordinary

I come from a long line of Johns.

I come from a long line of people who, like John the Baptist, are extraordinarily ordinary.

I come from a long line of people who do not let their ordinary-ness keep them from owning all that makes them spectacular.

I stand in this pulpit today because ordinary women had the audacity to proclaim that God was working within them and that God has something to say.

So here I am, with something to say.

This is an ode to the ordinary. To the path-finders, the trail-blazers, the way-makers. The glass-ceiling shatter-ers.

This is an ode to you.

Perhaps you wonder sometimes what God could see in a misfit like yourself.

How can God use a little someone just trying to make their

way in this wild world?

So this one’s for you. You who have been taught to lead humble lives, to be the quiet in the land. To be modest, to never dare draw attention to yourselves because who are you to catch the light when the attention and glory goes to God only?

Well I am here to tell you that your life depends on catching that light.

For that Light is God.

The Light’s whole purpose is to live inside of you and proclaim the way of the Lord.

To burst from you, to ooze from your bones.

Yes you, sitting in the pew, you are just like John the Baptist, a man formed in the wilderness. You have a calling, a responsibility.

Granted you are no Iberius Caesar, you are no Herod of Galilee, or Priests like Annas and Caiphas. No, but that’s the whole point. The royal ones might have seemed to be the powerful ones but you are like John the Baptist. The one whom the Word of God came to.

This is an ode to you. The ordinary one that has claimed their place within a history of ordinary people that God deemed spectacular. Just ordinary enough to carry the Word, to pave the way, to proclaim the good news.

And who are these ordinary folk who came before you?

They are Mary, a young woman brave enough to say yes to God’s call. One that would change the entire fabric of her life. They are Ruth, a woman who lost it all yet refused to give up on her people and family. They are Samuel, a young boy who slept on the floor of the temple, the only one who could hear God calling in the night. They are shepherds, they are women who dye cloth, they are lost lambs, poor widows. They are the ordinary, the misfits who had the vision to see the light and the audacity to pursue the light. To let the light, light up their lives.

This is an ode to the ordinary. To the lost sheep. To the one wandering in the wilderness.

To you, the unremarkable. To God, you are worth losing it all, risking it all, redeeming it all. You, little lost sheep, are worth the world. You are worth the Word. The God-in-flesh, God-among-us-Emmanuel, Messiah-anointed one. You are worthy of receiving a tiny baby with no place to call home.

You, ordinary one, have been picked out, chosen to take on the call to righteousness, to justice. You, ordinary one, are called to make straight paths, to fill the valleys, to make low the mountains, to straighten crooked paths, to smooth the rough way. You, ordinary one, are called to fight for what is right, to lift up the lowly, to empower the powerless, to work towards right relationship.

This is an ode to you, ordinary one, someone just ordinary enough that you will see God’s salvation.

You ordinary one, I hold you in my heart, you share God’s grace with me, I thank my God every time I think of you.[2]

When will you look in the mirror and see yourselves the way God sees you? When will you believe that you are good as you are? When will you see that your ordinary-ness is a blessing?

The famous ones, the empires, the ones who hold on to power with white-knuckles, who refuse to turn their hearts…They might burn brightly for a moment, a lifetime even, but their light will fade. For their light comes from popularity, from excessive pride, from caring for that which does not last. Their light is hollow. Empty.

You, ordinary one, on the other hand, you cling to the hand of the one who used his light to right the world. You turn your hearts toward the one who used his power not to manipulate, dominate, or impress…rather… you hold on to the one who rejected, who denied this form of power during his time in the wilderness, and though this life, death, and resurrection.

This light, the light of the world, will light you up from within. This light will not be dimmed even as your life draws to a close. This light is bigger than all of us, it comes before us, dwells within us, and will continue after us. Yes you are ordinary, but all this means is that your light will not burn bright and then be snuffed out. Your light carries on, leads the way for others, your light will come to completion.

For you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.[3]

So here’s to you, the ordinary.

May you claim your light, bask in its goodness. May you take on your call to prepare the way, to right broken relationships, to call out where power is being abused, to lift the lowly. Claim your light, become a beacon, a light house, because in your ordinariness is an extraordinary capacity for Jesus-like compassion, grace, and empathy.

This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with the knowledge that you are your best self.[4] That you are doing your best with what you have. That you shine as you are, that in your ordinary face shines the very face of God. You are ordinary and you are a child of God and you are loved and Light and Good.

We all come from a long line of John the Baptists. We come from a long line of trailblazers, way makers, and glass ceiling shatter-ers. We are the extraordinarily ordinary misfits. And we, shining in the light of our Maker, will be the voice calling in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads made straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.”[5]

We are the extraordinarily ordinary misfits. So here’s to the ordinary. We are Light. We are loved. We are called. And we are Good.

Which is anything but ordinary.


[1] Technically this would be “man fully alive” but I changed it to be inclusive. Also this quote may actually be a mistranslation:

This may be true, but I love the quote even if it is wrong.

[2] From Philippians 1:3-11

[3] Based on Luke 1:67-79

[4] Based on Philippians 1:9

[5] Luke 3:6 Isaiah 40:3-5

Works Consulted

Working Preacher Commentary on Luke 3:1-6:

Michal Beth Dinkler

What’s in a Name? Karoline Lewis

Advent 2 C: Audacious Historians

John the Baptist - The Holy Homemaker, Mark 1:1-8, Shannon Johnson Kershner

Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, Black Mountain, NC

A Narrative Analysis of the Baptist’s Nativity in Luke 1, RICHARD j. DILLON, Fordham University (.Emer.)

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