January 4, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 2:20 (NRSV)
The shepherds returned . . . .
If returning to work feels rather like a downer to you, remember this: Because of Christmas, God understands how you feel. God the Son worked in an ordinary job for the majority of his adult years. He gets how you feel, all because of Christmas. This is a fitting reason to imitate the shepherds. As you get back to work, do so glorifying and praising God for the reality of the Incarnation, for Emmanuel, God with us, the core of Christmas.
Today is the second-to-last installment in this devotional series, Responding to the Wonder of Christmas. In previous devotions, we have reflected upon various responses to the birth of Christ: fear, resolution, action, witness, and treasuring. Today we’ll consider returning.
Ever since I was a young boy, I have loved Christmas. I loved the cultural traditions: Santa, decorations, presents, parties, family gatherings. I also loved the religious elements: sacred carols, Advent, Christmas worship, nativity pageants, and, most of all, the birth of Jesus, the Word Incarnate, the Savior of the world.
Moreover, ever since I was a young boy, I hated it when Christmas was over. I always felt sad on Christmas night, realizing that the next celebration was 365 days away. (This was before I discovered the 12 days of Christmas.) To this day, I dislike putting away our Christmas decorations. (One year I left some of our lights and garlands up for weeks. Finally, on the evening before Lent, my wife Linda insisted I take them down.)
Part of what I hated about Christmas being over was going back to school, and then going back to work. Not that I ever really hated work or school, but somehow it seemed like a double whammy to put away the decorations on Sunday and get back to work on Monday. Even now, going back to my job, which I love most of the time, feels rather depressing.
I wonder how shepherds felt when their experience of the first Christmas was over. After all, Luke reports that once they had told everyone about the birth of Jesus, “the shepherds returned” (2:20). Luke doesn’t say exactly to what or where they returned. Perhaps it was to their homes. But, given that they had started out in the fields watching their flocks by night, I assume that this is the destination of their returning. They went back to work. They went back to hanging out with a flock of sheep. I wonder if they felt as if they had awakened from a dream. For a brief moment, their lives had been overturned by glorious angels and the wonder of Jesus in the manger. But that time was gone, and they were back with the sheep once again. It could have felt anticlimactic, don’t you think?
I think we have reason to believe that the shepherds did not let their returning to work bum them out. I’ll talk more about this tomorrow. Today, let me suggest that we can choose to let the reality of work drag us down. Or we can choose to let the reality of Christmas lift us up. We can focus on ourselves and our predicament. Or we can focus on God and his provision.
Here’s something that leads me to wonder and joy even and especially when I’m unhappy to return to work. Are you ready for this? The reality of Christmas tells me that God understands how I feel, that God is present with me in the ups and downs of everyday life, including my work. You see, the core reality of Christmas is the Incarnation, God becoming human in Jesus. As a baby, Jesus didn’t do much work. Mainly he created a lot of work for others, mainly his mother. But, when he was about twelve years old, Jesus would have gone to work with his father. He would have been a hard-working apprentice. In time, especially after his father died, Jesus would have continued as a carpenter and small business owner. This means that Jesus understood the pressures of everyday work. He knew the boredom of repetitive work and the stress of tight deadlines. To put it differently, God in human flesh, Emmanuel, God with us, understands in a deep and personal way what you and I experience in our work.
So, if returning to work feels rather like a downer to you, remember this: Because of Christmas, God understands how you feel. God the Son worked in an ordinary job for the majority of his adult years. He gets how you feel, all because of Christmas. So, even if returning is not your favorite thing, you can carry with you the deep, wonderful truth of Christmas. The Word of God Incarnate understands what you’re going through. That is good news, indeed.
How are you feeling about returning to work? (I recognize that for some of us, our work didn’t let up over the holidays. Sometimes it can feel like we work harder at that time than in ordinary time.)
What difference does it make to you that Jesus “gets” what it’s like to do ordinary work?
Find time at work, it might be just before, just after, or during a break, to ponder what it means that Jesus understands the rigors and pressures of daily work.
Gracious God, thank you for the reality of Christmas. Thank you for the Word made flesh. Thank you for Emmanuel, for the fact that you are with us.
Thank you, Lord, for the fact that Jesus, being fully human as well as fully God, understands what it’s like to work. When I’m feeling stressed or bored or any number of other feelings, it’s wonderful to remember that Jesus understands.
All praise be to you, God of the Incarnation, God who has chosen to be with us, Emmanuel! Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Prayer on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: O Christ, the Master Carpenter, Wield Well Your Tools (Prayer)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.