The incarnation and God’s presence at work

The holiday season can be a stressful time for all. There are financial pressures that come after multiples trips to stores to purchase just the right Christmas gifts for all, to travel home to visit extended family, or to feed and entertain visiting relatives. There are time pressures to attend the endless array of work, church, and school holiday events. In many of our jobs, there are unique seasonal or end-of-year requirements that may force us to put in more hours than usual. Even pastors experience this with additional services, holiday gatherings, and visiting or counseling congregants who find the holidays more difficult than enjoyable.

In the midst of the busyness of the holiday season, how can we focus on the blessings of where God places us in each season?

In my career journey over the past four decades, there have been a few major theological ideas that have helped me to experience God’s presence in my work. Several of these concepts are especially applicable during the holiday season. Perhaps they may become a source of inspiration for others as well.

What the incarnation shows us

First, Christmas is all about God sending us the best gift of all: his son. Jesus was the promised Messiah who fulfilled Old Testament prophecies and was a perfect prophet, priest, and king.

Jesus’ coming to Earth in human form also demonstrated that God places value on the physical world. As a man, Jesus could truly be “God with us.” He touched, healed, and shed real tears. He died a real death and was raised from the dead in a new body. This resurrection body is what we will receive at the consummation of all things (see 1 Cor 15). Moreover, because Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine, he alone is qualified to be our high priest, having been tempted to sin, but never giving in (Heb 4:15).

Knowing this helps us to understand the sacred-secular divide is based on a false assumption that the spiritual world is of greater priority to God than the physical creation. Tom Nelson, in Work Matters, observes how “Working with his hands day in and day out in a carpentry shop was not below Jesus. Jesus did not see his carpentry work as mundane or meaningless, for it was the work his Father had called him to do.” Because Jesus did the work, it was both excellent and sacred. As Jesus’s disciples, the work we do with a spirit of excellence is also sacred, in and out of busy or difficult seasons.

When I reflect on how Jesus left his Spirit to manifest his presence in those of us who are his true followers, I can be physically present with and work with my hands, heart, and mind to meet the various needs of the people who God has divinely placed around me. The Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power changes me as a worker. It also enables me as a new creature in Christ to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, which blesses others and gives glory to God.

God appeared to the lowly workers

Secondly, in the birth narratives of Jesus found in the first few chapters of  Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, we discover a large supporting cast of workers of various kinds. We see Joseph the carpenter. We see astrologers from the east who travelled afar. We see shepherds pulling the night shift. God the Father revealed himself to each of them through angels and celestial signs above, announcing the birth of his son. The faith and obedience of  each of these humble workers is in direct contrast to the fear and deception of those who were in high positions.

According to Martin Luther, God is present in everyone’s ordinary work, showing its intrinsic value. Gustav Wingren, in Luther on Vocation indicates that Luther concluded that “With persons as his ‘hands’ or ‘coworkers,’ God gives his gifts through the earthly vocations, toward man’s life on earth (food through farmers, fishermen and hunters; external peace through princes, judges, and orderly powers; knowledge and education through teachers and parents, etc.).”

If God is indeed present with the worker as he or she works, and if God is working through the worker to do a job that he wants done in the world, then all work is valuable. We can then conclude that all workers are valued by God and should be valued by us.

God continues to meet our needs and the needs of our families, especially during the holidays, through the hard work of part-time and seasonal retail, food service, and postal workers, just to name a few. If God works through these ordinary workers, and he does, we can be grateful customers, treating all workers (especially those who serve in humble positions) with respect, intentionally letting them know with kind words and actions that they are a blessing to us.

Opportunities to minister as we suffer with them

Third, I learned a long time ago that God divinely places his children where he wants us to be for his purposes. One of those purposes is to work closely with people, many of whom we would not meet at church. And because God is present with us, we may be the only Jesus they see.

For example, we might work in a retail store, or any place of employment where the holiday stress is obvious. When we suffer alongside others, we can earn their respect and the right to speak into their lives. When we choose to rejoice in these trials at work, and display the hope we have in Christ, this may open up a door to minister to them in a deeper way and point them to Jesus.

Be encouraged. God is present in our labor. He will use you as you are present with others.

Topics: Christian Life, Theology

About the Author

Russ Gehrlein is the author of Immanuel Labor - God's Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work. He earned a master of arts in biblical studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. In 2006, he retired from more than 20 years active duty in the US Army in the rank of Master Sergeant. He currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at the US Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.