Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
A Review of The First Christmas by Thomas D. Williams
+JMJ+ Here we are in the second week of Advent already. The older I get, the more I am struck by how quickly time seems to go! Then again, it could just feel that way because, as an adult, I am much busier and so often get caught up in day to day life as a wife and mother.
This is the time of year when many of us seem to find ourselves more easily overwhelmed and busier than usual. It's easy to get caught up in the busyness of the season, isn't it? As soon as November rolls around, the Christmas decorations appear and, as soon as Thanksgiving ends, it's full on Christmas everywhere we look. Suddenly, we find ourselves busy trying to find the best deals on items to buy, we're decorating, baking, cooking, and attending or planning parties. While these things aren't bad in and of themselves, one could argue that sometimes these things become idols, taking over from the "reason for the season." It's easy to get so caught up in Santa Claus, reindeer, the glitz, glamour, gifts, and parties that the season of Advent is just glossed right over and the birth of Jesus becomes just another story.
Advent is a season of preparation as we look forward to the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Sadly, we are in such a rush to get to Christmas Day that we often forget all about who and what we are celebrating. My family has come up with our own creative traditions to help prepare for Christ's coming during the Advent season, and my husband and I are doing our best to raise our children with the understanding that this can be a fun, magical time of year but that there is a far deeper meaning to it. One of our traditions is to read the Christmas story regularly and discuss it as a family, imagining what it must have been like to be present in that stable on that night that changed the world.
It's easy to get lazy about the Christmas story. Over time, it can lose its impact. After all, most of us have heard it many, many times. It's "old news." I'm slowly learning to look at the story of Jesus' birth as if from a child's eyes. Children are so joyful, innocent, and curious, and they seem to so often recognize the things we adults take for granted!
Of course, there are many wonderful children's books telling of the birth of Jesus and they all have something special to offer. This year, however, my family has a new favorite to read and it's called The First Christmas by Thomas D. Williams. This tells the story we are all familiar with but it does a beautiful job of tying it in with the reason we celebrate Jesus' birth even now over two thousand years later and illustrating how the extraordinary can be found in the things that seem so ordinary. This book encourages fun and magic but also the reverence due to Our Lord.
I encourage you to really stop and think about the birth of Jesus: in an ordinary place with ordinary people, an extraordinary thing happened: a King was born. His mother was simple and ordinary, the man chosen to be His foster father on earth was also simple and ordinary, and Jesus was born into the humblest of circumstances. In the eyes of the world at that time, there was nothing extraordinary about it. Yet, that first Christmas was anything but ordinary! Really, the conditions surrounding our Savior's birth were quite extraordinary, weren't they? However, there was little pomp and circumstance, at least none that one would consider fit for a king of this world. Yet, the extraordinary presence of God came into ordinary times in this ordinary world and changed everything.
A few weeks ago on my blog, I shared my thoughts about Anthony DeStefano's latest book The Seed Who Was Afraid to Be Planted, and I mentioned that my husband and I enjoy finding books that we can all get something out of (our children and us parents). The First Christmas has proved to be one of those special books. It was a delightful, simple read and my children loved the sweet, easy to follow poetry. However, as so often happens with children's books, it was the illustrations by Frank Fraser that really brought this story to life in a new and exciting way for us.
The older I get, the more I realize that God tends to use the ordinary, simplest of people in ordinary places to do His extraordinary work. This is so beautifully shown throughout this book in the illustrations which do such a wonderful job of bringing the ordinary to life while, at the same time, highlighting the very extraordinary events occurring. The people in the drawings are doing perfectly ordinary things (sometimes silly things, much to the delight of our little ones). Our children (ages 9, 3, and 6) were completely engaged with the story and they were engrossed in each drawing, pointing out little details and imagining themselves being there in Bethlehem at that time. To be perfectly, honest, I probably would have missed some of those details. Funny how the smallest and most innocent among us are often able to point out those minor details! It makes me realize that I'm so busy as an adult that I miss so much! It seems easy for children to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Isn't this what God calls us to do everyday? Isn't this part of the beauty of the story of Jesus' birth? When I allow myself to slow down and listen to my children laugh, gaze at the light in their eyes, and recognize the pure joy in their smiles, I'm reminded of how extraordinary the most seemingly ordinary among us are. I'm sure that same light was in the eyes of the Baby Jesus so long ago! God chose to send His only Son to this earth as a completely innocent child, into the most ordinary of circumstances in order that we will find extraordinary love and joy and, ultimately, perfect happiness in Heaven. Yet, all too often that is forgotten even at this time of year when it should be at the forefront of our minds and heart!
The book's illustrations made us smile, laugh, and I teared up on the page where Mary gives her "yes" to God. I always find myself so moved by her complete trust in God. The drawing on this page is so serene and beautiful and made it easy to imagine the real-life Mary completely surrendering herself to God's will. There is such peace on her face as she offers herself completely to Him to be His handmaid! I have to admit, the true story of Christmas has had such a profound impact on me since becoming a mother over 9 years ago.
Reading The First Christmas reminded me to find beauty in the simple things (just as children do), to slow down, and take the time to appreciate the beauty (and fun) of this season of Advent and to look forward to Christmas with the same eager, wide-eyed anticipation and innocence of a child. From time to time, we all need to take a step back from everything going on around us and allow our eyes to be truly opened by God's love and grace - to recognize His presence in the ordinary. Sometimes, God speaks to us and we hear His voice like a thunderbolt - strong and clear. But I think that most often we hear His voice like a glimmer of light - a gentle gleaming, however faint, shining through the darkness to show us the way and bring us hope. Most often, God reveals Himself to us in the ordinary events of our lives and through the most seemingly ordinary people. These are the "glimmers of grace" I so often speak of!
Personally, I really needed this book especially this year which (as many of you know) has been so trying. I've been so focused on my grief and disappointments and trying to accept and work through them, and this book helped to remind me of "the reason for the season." Yes, I am still sad about my losses and I know that's normal. However, this book has encouraged me to look beyond the sadness and better appreciate the joy, not only this season brings, but God's little gifts that He sends to us each and everyday. We just need to remember to keep our eyes and hearts open! This book also served as a gentle reminder for my children of whose birth we are preparing to celebrate. The First Christmas was fun and serious at the same time and I think that's how we should all approach the Christmas season - with the utmost reverence for Our Lord but also with praise and gratitude, our hearts aflame with the joy of His birth.
This Advent season, dare to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Dare to recognize Jesus in the ordinary. I pray that you all experience the hope, peace, joy, and love that this sacred season brings and that you feel Christ's love as we prepare for the birth of our Savior.
The First Christmas was released from Sophia Press and is available for purchase at
Disclaimer: this post is in no way sponsored by Sophia Press. I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest feedback and am simply sharing my thoughts in this blog post.