I’m often asked what my plans are now that I’m done with graduate school.
Since “I do a lot of blogging” makes it sound like I moved back into my parents’ basement and “I don’t know” sounds even worse, I usually tell people I’m doing doctoral work in the often overlooked fields of diaper changing and bottle making.
I originally began my doctoral studies by focusing on cloth diapers, but once another “case study” was added to my program, the course work became too much and I transitioned to a traditional focus on disposable excrement catchers.
I couldn’t help but think about my studies during the sermon at church yesterday.
My pastor preached on Luke 2 and Jesus’ infamous Home Alone parody when his parents headed back home only to realize they had left the boy Jesus behind in Jerusalem. Then, when they found him, he was…let’s be honest…kind of a smart alec about the whole thing.
Though I find that whole story fascinating, particularly now that I’m a parent, what stuck out to me yesterday wasn’t the boy Jesus dropping knowledge in the temple.
It was the silence between his birth and that moment.
As you know, we don’t have all that much information about Jesus’ childhood. Matthew and Luke give us a few stories surrounding his birth, but once Jesus is presented at the temple and the magi leave, there’s nothing but silence until he’s left behind (pun maybe intended?) in Jerusalem.
Now, there is the non-canonical Infancy Gospel of Thomas that attempts to shed some light on Jesus’ childhood and it does find Jesus doing some pretty incredible things like breathing life into clay birds, resurrecting a friend from the dead, and…uh…cursing a boy to death and causing the dead boy’s parents to go blind.
But, and maybe this is just the parent in me, it’s hard not to think that the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written to spice up an otherwise boring time in the life of Jesus. After all, we can’t allow our greatest heroes to suffer even one moment of the mundane. They must constantly be doing awesome and amazing things all the time lest they, I don’t know, shrivel up and waste away? If our heroes aren’t incredible 24/7, then the unimaginable happens.
They become ordinary.
And that is just totally unacceptable.
Maybe Jesus did put Harry Potter to shame with his awesome miracle skills when he was a kid, but I would wager a pretty hefty bet that the gospel writers skipped over this period in his life because simply because it was, well, boring.
At least when compared to the rest of Jesus’ story.
I mean think about it. After the magi left and angels stopped singing in their backyard, Mary and Joseph had a lot of decidedly less exciting time of their hands, time filled with breastfeeding and diaper changing, losing sleep and washing clothes, failed attempts at getting baby Jesus to stop screaming and complete success at letting their house become a total disaster because cleaning is the last thing you want to do after a night full of 3 hours of restless sleep.
Now, I know we Protestants get super squeamish about the adoration of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church.
I get it.
I really do.
But if ever there was a woman worthy of our admiration (and there have been many), surely Mary is at the top of the list.
Raising a child is hard enough on its own. Add to that an ancient patriarchal society in which Joseph was probably MIA doing other things most of the time and then combine with a life of poverty and you’ve got a potent mix that all but guarantees a long string of difficult and stressful days (and nights).
To various extents, we can all relate to that.
But Mary wasn’t just any parent.
She was changing diapers for God.
Heck, she was changing the diapers of God.
For all parents, the health and well being of our children is dependent upon our care for them. But for Mary, the gospel and even salvation itself was dependent upon her willingness to be a parent, to do mundane, boring, everyday things most of us take for granted. Because without the diaper changes, without the breastfeeding, without the constant care and attention that cost her (and Joseph) untold amounts of sleep, Jesus doesn’t make it through childhood. Without years and years of undocumented, unglamorous work that the gospel writers didn’t think interesting enough to record, Jesus never gets a chance to walk across the sea of Galilee, preach the Sermon on the Mount, feed the five thousand, or carry his cross up the hill of Calvary.
Changing diapers may be boring work, but without Mary doing that boring work, there is no good news. Without the mundane moments of Jesus’ childhood, there is no opportunity for greatness down the road.
And that’s what I found so profoundly interesting in what the gospel writers don’t say.
Changing diapers and washing clothes may not make for great story material, at least not the kind that’s primed and ready for a made for TV movie, but there’s an incredibly important lesson to be learned in the silence between the departure of the magi and the day Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem.
His birth and ministry may get all the headlines, but without the time in-between, when Jesus was just another kid and Mary and Joseph were just parents trying to make through another day, without those years and years and years of uninteresting everydayness, there is no foundation for the greatness that was to come.
Those years and their seemingly never-ending monotony may not make for epic story telling material, but the moments that bookend and depend upon that time serve as an important reminder for all of us that there is something sacred in the messy and the mundane, the ordinary and the everyday.
That doesn’t mean every single thing we do is holy and transcendent in importance.
They’re not. There are plenty of everyday things we do that have no significant, life changing ripples.
But in an era in which we’ve convinced ourselves that the world can only be changed through extraordinary deeds worthy of a viral post on Facebook, the silence surrounding Jesus’ childhood should remind all of us of the importance to be found in the mundane.
Simple acts of ordinary love and kindness may not garner much attention, but sometimes, maybe a lot of times they’re far more important and world changing than we give them credit for.