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Christmas and Work: Work in the Christmas Story of Luke

December 12, 2016 • Life for Leaders

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1-4

 

Children dressed up in a Christmas play.Christmas . . . Work. What comes to mind when you read these two words together? I expect many of us think of Christmas as time away from work. One of the gifts of Christmas is getting at least one day off, though millions of people work on Christmas Day, either because it’s required or because they can’t quite get away from their digital leashes. (When I was a pastor, Christmas Eve was one of my hardest days of work in the year, which ended gloriously early on Christmas morning as our midnight communion service concluded. Except in years when December 25 fell on Sunday, I did not work more on Christmas Day, but enjoyed a day of well-earned rest.)

If we think of work as more than just our paid occupations, then Christmas can actually require lots of extra work. Somebody has to buy and wrap all of those Christmas presents, not to mention confronting the “some assembly required” challenge they may present. And somebody has to buy, cook, and serve the holiday food, and then clean up after the meal. I know people who spend dozens of hours in December sending Christmas cards to their friends and associates. And so on, and so on. (As I write this, I’m sitting in a coffee place. A woman at the next table just proclaimed loudly to her friends, “When I see how this place is decorated for Christmas, part of me thinks, ‘This is wonderful,” and part of me thinks, ‘O my gosh, I can’t believe how much I have to do.’”)

Christmas and Work. I’d like to take several days to reflect on some connections between these two realities. I’m going to take my cue, not from the experiences I’ve noted above, but rather from the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke. My plan is to read slowly through this narrative, pausing to consider with you how what we’re reading relates to our work.

The first thing that strikes me as I begin reading Luke from the perspective of work is that we wouldn’t have this narrative apart from the hard work of its author. Tradition identifies the writer of the third gospel with Luke, a medical doctor and companion of Paul. While this traditional identification might well be accurate, the text itself doesn’t make this clear. What it does reveal is that the author of Luke worked very hard on this gospel. He “carefully investigated” the wide array of oral traditions and written accounts of the ministry of Jesus (1:2-3). Then, on the basis of his research, he sought to “write an orderly account” so that someone named “Theophilus . . . may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (1:4). The introduction to the third gospel portrays its author as a serious historian/biographer, one who has labored intensely to produce the gospel we know as Luke.

Whether Luke intended his gospel for more than just one primary reader is something scholars like to debate. But I’m pretty sure that the writer of the third gospel did not imagine that millions upon millions of people would be reading his “orderly account” almost twenty centuries after it was written. And I’m positive that Luke did not envision his story being acted out millions of times each year in Christmas plays and nativity scenes.

The case of Luke reminds me that we don’t really know the ultimate impact of our work. What we consider to be significant may turn out to be one more instance of what Ecclesiastes calls “vanity” (or “meaningless” in the NIV; see Eccl 1:2). And what we take for granted may end up being influential in ways we never envisioned. Our task, it seems to me, is not to work on polishing our legacy, but rather to work faithfully and diligently with whatever the Lord has given us to do, leaving the ultimate results of our labor to him.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

How do you respond to the juxtaposition of “Christmas” and “work”? How do you experience the relationship between Christmas and work?

As you think about the birth of Jesus, can you think of ways it is relevant to your work? If so, what connections suggest themselves to you?

PRAYER:

Gracious God, in this season of Advent, as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, we thank you for your presence and grace. In particular, we thank you today for Luke and for the hard work he invested in the writing of the gospel that bears his name.

Help us, Lord, to be faithful stewards of the work you have given to us. Even though it may not seem to us to have eternal significance, may we do our work in faithfulness to you, trusting you with the results. Use us, Lord, for your purposes and glory. Amen.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentaryIntroduction to Luke

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