God’s Work and Our Work
It has always struck me as being very strange. The Savior of the world, the King of all Creation, is born. That’s a very big deal. But look—he is born nowhere to nobody. Bethlehem wasn’t much of a town, and frankly, despite its rich tradition, Israel at that point wasn’t much of a country. Looking in the rearview mirror we revere Joseph and Mary, but at the time of Jesus’ birth, who were they? Nobody, really. Just peasants, a working stiff and his young bride, probably scared out of their wits like all first-time parents are only even more scared than normal because of the wonder of it all.
Of course, the birth of a king is supposed to be announced, “heralded” we might say. I remember all the hoopla that surrounded the births of the children of Charles and Diana. You’d have thought that something had happened that actually mattered. But look at the announcement of the birth of Jesus: it was announced nowhere to nobody. Oh, it was announced by angels, by those heavenly messengers of God, and the announcement was quite impressive, with the glorious presence of the Lord being much in evidence. But the impressive display took place out in the fields before a bunch of ordinary shepherds. The greatest announcement that was ever made, and it was made nowhere to a bunch of nobodies.
We learn something here about the ways in which God works. I don’t mean to say that God always works in the way I’m about to describe. He has certainly done some things that were big and noisy and obvious. There’s the crossing of the sea during the Exodus, for example. Then there’s the destruction of Jericho. Moreover, the NT teaches that when Jesus comes the second time it will be in an astoundingly obvious way. Still, the fact is that when God brought about the greatest event in the history of the world he did it in a very mysterious and amazingly quiet way. The further fact is that the vast majority of the time God works in quiet, seemingly unremarkable ways to accomplish his will, and he accomplishes it in ordinary places and through ordinary people.
What makes the events extraordinary is that God is the one who is working. Yes, we’re dealing with ordinary places and ordinary people, but God is directly active in what is taking place. It was because of the activity of the Spirit of God that Mary was to have Jesus. It was because God sent his heavenly messengers that the shepherds had their astounding experience.
We can count on God being active in our lives. He stands behind our lives and works within our lives to bring about his will. There is nothing ordinary in the life of a Christian. Everything is about God working his purposes out. He works with us and through us in our everyday lives. Sometimes we set ourselves up for frustration because we are always holding out for the blatantly miraculous or the amazingly extraordinary as if without such events God is not doing anything. Such is a narrow way of viewing the Christian experience.
If we’ll pay attention to what God is doing and follow up on the ways he leads us, we’ll have the opportunity to influence the world for his sake and on his behalf. The shepherds praised God and told their story. Mary kept those things in her heart, and I suspect became a primary source for the gospel story. Experiencing the activity of God in whatever ways we experience it leads to our having a job to do. Eugene Peterson, speaking of the call of Isaiah, makes comments along these lines.
God speaks vocationally; there is work to be done. Holiness always involves this word of God: God spoke to Moses at the burning bush; God spoke to John in the Patmos vision; God spoke to Isaiah in the Jerusalem temple. The effusion, the overflow of life that is holiness is not something to be hoarded, but delivered, spread around, spoken and acted. Holiness can never be reduced to an emotional, devotional experience that we cultivate in order to “feel spiritual.” It has command-content to it. Holiness is not an experience of sublimity that abstracts us from the world of work; it is an invitation to enter into what God is doing and intending to get done in the world. [Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), pp. 74-75]
So let’s look for what God is doing. Then let’s obey his command to share our experience of him with our lives and with our words.