Blog - Grasping Vocation
Christmas WorkMonday, December 24, 2012
The virgin birth of Jesus was clearly the work of God. Yet he did this work within a setting prepared by the work of human beings. As we celebrate Christmas, the story of the God-Man’s birth can remind us that God uses our work in doing his work.
Micah, the prophet, foretold 700 years or so beforehand that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (5:2). But Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth. How could God persuade them to take that long walk to Bethlehem? He could have informed them to make the journey by means of a dream—as he would later do when he instructed Joseph to move to Egypt (Matt. 5:13). Instead, God worked through the work of the Roman government. Caesar Augustus issued an executive order for an empire-wide census. Joseph and Mary learned of this order through the work many others: scribes, couriers, and possibly sailors.
God made the first Adam from earth’s dust. I assume it would also have been possible for God to bring us the "last Adam,” without the labor of a woman. Instead, he used Mary’s labor—the exertion of her body—as the means through which he sent his Son to live among us.
The gospel writers give us very few details surrounding the actual birth and first days of Jesus in his infant body on earth. But two particulars stand out, each part of the "sign” in Luke 2:12. First, Mary wrapped her newborn in cloths. And second, she placed the tiny boy in a manger. The God who had sent manna from heaven to feed the desert-trekking Israelites could have supernaturally provided a crib and clothing fitting for King Jesus. But no, the manger came from the labor of a craftsman. And the long strips of cloths for wrapping the baby had been created by the work of a weaver.
When God sent his angels to announce the birth, they did not appear to religious leaders in the Jerusalem temple or to politicians in a palace. Instead, they came to a workplace, where shepherds were going about their daily task of looking after flocks of sheep. To these working people, God gave the privilege of being the first—other than Joseph and Mary—to see the baby, Christ the Lord, and to spread the news about the Savior.
What God did supernaturally to bring his Son into the world surpassed the work of everyone else. But God’s work did not replace natural work or make it irrelevant. Rather, like a thread of gold running through a piece of ordinary fabric, God wove the work of the Christ-child’s incarnation into the normal, everyday work of those made in his likeness. In that way, their work became his work as well.
Even today, God does his work in, around, behind, and through our work—whether it’s paid or unpaid. This gives our work dignity and worth. Martin Luther called our work "the masks of God.” As he put it, "All our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in struggle, in government—to what does it all amount before God except child's play, by means of which God is pleased to give his gifts in the field, at home, and everywhere? These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things.” (From Luther’s Exposition of Psalm 147.)