In this Advent season, we celebrate the birth of Immanuel, who brought God’s presence to us. As we live in between Jesus’s first and second comings, the reality of his presence affects every aspect of our lives at church, at home, and at work.
Luke’s version of the Christmas story offers glimpses of men and women of faith—ordinary workers, like you and me—who illustrate the repeated biblical connection between God’s presence and human work, which I call Immanuel labor. I invite you to join me as I unpack their stories, share some observations, and consider how to apply these principles to experience God’s presence at work.
The first character Luke introduces us to in the Christmas story is Zechariah, an ordinary priest. His wife, Elizabeth, was barren (we also later learn she is a close relative of Mary, Jesus’ mother). When Zechariah was doing his duty serving in the temple, he was randomly chosen to burn incense. Luke tells us that there, in the middle of carrying out his job, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, announcing that Elizabeth would bear a son who would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk. 1:5-17).
This divine encounter undoubtedly enabled Zechariah to continue his priestly work in a new light, but it also gave him a new role: the father of the boy who would grow up to be John the Baptist. As we consider how God’s presence with Zechariah might apply to us, perhaps our most significant contributions to God’s Kingdom are not what we accomplish, but what God will do through the children we raise.
Like Zechariah, Mary is an example of an ordinary parent raising an extraordinary son—and thus another great example of God’s presence connecting with human work. However, Mary’s faith in God was deeper and her work far more profound.
God was present with Mary as the Holy Spirit came upon her at Jesus’s conception (Lk. 1:35). God was present while she was in labor to deliver the Deliverer. Through the pain of childbirth that Eve was cursed with in Genesis 3:16, Jesus was born so that we could be born again. God was present with her as Jesus’ loving mother as she worked daily to meet his human needs.
In reading Mary’s song of praise (Lk. 1:46-55), we see that she not only understood God’s omnipresence with his chosen people, but that she had experienced his presence personally. Listen to what she said: “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (v. 47), “the Mighty One has done great things for me” (v. 49), “His mercy extends to those who fear him” (v. 50), and “He … has lifted up the humble” (v. 52).
As mothers and fathers today, we may not think much about how God’s presence enables us to fulfill our own high calling. However, like all work worth doing, raising a child requires being a coworker with God. Gustaf Wingren’s Luther on Vocation notes that Martin Luther wisely taught that “God creates the babes in the mother’s body—man being only an instrument in God’s hand—and then he sustains them with his gifts, brought to the children through the labors of father and mother in their parental office.”
Shepherds & Angels
The presence of God, represented by the angel Gabriel, appeared to Zechariah and to Mary. Next, we see the presence of God with an unnamed angel who proclaims Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. God interrupted their humble job as caretakers of sheep, which led to their assignment as the first evangelists to share the good news. As the Theology of Work Bible Commentary (vol. 4) notes, “God is able to break into the midst of everyday life with his goodness and glory.”
As Luke tells the story in Luke 2:8-18, there were shepherds watching their flocks at night in fields outside Bethlehem when they were visited by an angel who had a special announcement to make. We know that God was present, as we read, “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” The angel said, “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (v. 10). He continued, “Today, in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (v. 11).
Observe that the angel emphasized the good news was for the shepherds and that the Savior was born for them. However, since God was present in their work, the shepherds inherently knew that God had an additional task for them to do. This joyful news was not just for them—it was for all the people.
Notice the biblical significance of their work as shepherds here. I wonder if they ever thought about the Lord being their shepherd (Ps. 23:1). When they saw the baby Jesus lying in a manger like a newborn lamb, is it possible they realized he was the spotless lamb that the Passover had foreshadowed? Did they know he would become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29; Isa. 53:7)?
What About You?
I trust that this journey into these Christmas characters revealed the common thread of God’s presence that interrupted, inspired, and enabled these faithful workers to fulfill their high callings through their ordinary work.
Even though these men and women, like Esther, were at the right place and time by God’s design “for such a time as this,” I believe that we can say the same about all Christians. The way God treated his chosen people back then is the same way he will treat his people now because he does not change. If he was present to empower them in their work, I believe he will do the same thing for us in ours.
Despite the seasonal chaos and the curse that makes work harder than it should be, God is always present. God works through each of us to meet the full spectrum of human needs. Your job matters to him, whether you are a parent, farmer, teacher, or blue-collar worker. God has a role for us to play as his coworkers. Let us celebrate and share the good news that Jesus has come, is here now, and will come again.
Editor’s note: This article was adapted from the author’s personal blog. Republished with permission.