No question. We have become obsessed with superheroes. In the next few years there is expected to be over 30 superhero movies directed, produced, and released to a general public who cannot get enough of seeing their favorite comic book characters come to life on the big screen. Growing up, I loved the mutant Nightcrawler from the X-men Universe. I wanted the ability to teleport wherever I wanted. No more needing to come up with excuses for the teacher as to why I didn’t have my homework with me. If I forgot it. No problem. I could quickly teleport home, grab it, and quickly teleport back to school in time before the bell rings, classes started, and the teacher asked for our homework.
Like Paul (Acts 17:16-34 and Athens altar to an unknown God), I find it important to always be paying attention to culture and find connecting points to help bridge the world in which we live and what it means for us to live a life of faith. There is much appeal in comparing Jesus with superheroes. The self sacrifice of the hero on behalf of others. Courage and hope to face challenges even when the odds are against us. And what better way to speak of Jesus’ ability to heal and bring on the miraculous then compare Jesus abilities with a superheroes’ powers. The possible illustrations are plentiful. And yet, I find myself hesitant.
As much as I want to, I have rarely created devotions and lessons with the plethora of superhero analogies available. While the connections would be easy. I am convinced they play into a larger idol we seem to be holding on to, especially when it comes to living a life of faith. We seem to be hungry and thirsty for all things spectacular.
The same is true of Jesus. We focus on the miraculous moments of Jesus life. The miraculous birth of Jesus, healing the blind man, healing the woman who has been bleeding for twelve years, raising Lazarus from the dead, and ultimately rising from the grave himself. Jesus becomes a symbol for hope and possibility in hopeless and impossible situations – yep, guilty, I am making a comparison between Christopher Nolan’s Batman and Jesus.
Jesus is a superhero! Until he isn’t. Which is when the hard questions begin to arrive.
Why isn’t my child responding to treatments?
Why isn’t justice becoming a reality if God is at work in our world now?
Why isn’t God responding to my desperate prayers in a situation which feels utterly hopeless?
Why (fill in the blank)?
This is a problem I think we bring on ourselves sometimes in the church when we constantly appeal to the spectacular moments in Jesus’ life. When we constantly point to the extraordinary at the expense of the ordinary, we are pointing to a Jesus who is less than human and has no home in the Gospels.
We forget Jesus was very much a man of his times. Born to a human mother. Had multiple siblings. He slept. He prayed. He studied the Torah. Ate around the table with his disciples. Worshiped at at the Temple. He withdrew when he got tired. Believe it or not, Jesus was a human being. Advent is not simply a story of the ordinary becoming extraordinary. The opposite is equally true. Advent is the story of the extraordinary becoming ordinary.
If Jesus was out of this world, he probably would have garnered more attention in his day. Most likely the Romans would have spent more time thinking about how they could have harnessed his powers for their military and/or political use. Perhaps, the greatest miracle of Jesus’ life isn’t the miracles he performed, but the ordinary life of faith he lived day-to-day. Seeing the people around him for who they were rather than letting society dictate who was worthy of attention and compassion.
By no means am I suggesting we fully swing the pendulum in the other direction and focus only on the humanity of Jesus at the expense of the divinity. Our ancestors found it wise to leave room for both in articulating the mystery of the incarnation of God being fully divine and fully human. But, in a society where we have a proclivity for the spectacular, eye-catching, razzle-dazzle, extraordinary, and of out of this world, we could do with a little more ordinary.
At the heart of Advent, we celebrate the ordinary. God becoming an ordinary human being who finds value and meaning in sharing daily life with others. We find a person who calls us to ordinary acts of faith like prayer, sabbath, the sharing of our joys and sorrows together, and worship in a community. It has been my personal experience that beauty, faith, and meaning so often derive more from these extremely ordinary acts in life than they do from the spectacular which so often leaves me hungry for more and rarely satisfied.