And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Today is Christmas Eve. If you go to church this evening, chances are you may see an enactment of the Christmas story, complete with shepherds and maybe even sheep. This is especially true if you attend a service meant for younger children and families. (The photo comes from a Christmas Eve service at Irvine Presbyterian Church. My daughter is the shepherd with the light blue shawl.)
Our devotion for today focuses on the shepherds in Luke 2. A few days ago, in a devotion entitled “When God Interrupts Our Work,” we paid attention to Zechariah, whose work as a priest was interrupted by an angel with shockingly good news. Today, we examine another instance in the Christmas narrative when God interrupted someone’s work.
This time, those whom God interrupted were not working in the temple in Jerusalem but in the fields not far from this city and the village of Bethlehem. The Theology of Work commentary on this passage describes well what happened and what it might mean for us: “Like Zechariah the priest, the shepherds have their workday interrupted by God in a surprising way. Luke describes a reality in which an encounter with the Lord is not reserved for Sundays, retreats, or mission trips. Instead, each moment appears as a moment of potential in which God can reveal himself. The daily grind may serve to dull our spiritual senses, like the people of Lot’s generation whose routines of ‘eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building’ blinded them to the coming judgment on their city (Luke 17:28-30). But God is able to break into the midst of everyday life with his goodness and glory.”
Indeed, there are times when, in the midst of our daily work, God surprises us. We would do well to be attentive and open to such times. I think of times when, in the context of what seems like everyday work, I have sensed that God is up to something and wants me to join in. For example, a few weeks ago I was meeting with someone to do some business. As I look at him, the Spirit of God nudged me to ask, “How are you doing, personally?” He paused, sighed, and then shared a deep, personal struggle he was facing. I had the opportunity to listen and pray for him.
But, in addition to interrupting us, God is also present with us in our work in other times as well, in the ordinary times, the common times, the unsurprising times. The shepherds in Luke 2, for example, were contributing to God’s work in the world by caring for their sheep. We need to learn to be aware of God’s presence as we work, even if our work is not particularly enjoyable or meaningful. I’m reminded of Brother Lawrence, author of the classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God. Lawrence learned to commune with the Lord and delight in his presence even as Lawrence worked in the kitchen of his monastery, work he did not like at all.
So, even as we should be open to ways God will interrupt our work, we should also be attentive to God’s presence as we work, as well as to ways that our daily work contributes to God’s work in the world. God may be present to us in dramatic ways, as was true long ago for the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. Yet God is also present each day as we use his gifts to work and as we offer our work as worship.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What has God given you to “shepherd” through your work?
Can you think of times when God has interrupted your work for something special? What happened? How did you respond?
Do you sense God’s presence in your daily work?
What helps you to be more attentive to the Lord in the midst of your work?
Gracious God, thank you for sending angels to the shepherds. Thank you for announcing to them the wonderful news of the Savior’s birth.
Help me, Lord, to be open to ways you might interrupt my work. May I be attentive to you even when I’m focusing on my everyday tasks. And, may I learn to be aware of your presence in my ordinary work. Help me, Lord, to serve you in my work, no matter what I am doing.
To you be all the glory! Amen.