It’s a Monday in December, 7:30 a.m. I’m staring out my car window, driving the same streets, passing the same buildings, avoiding the same potholes, and sipping the same coffee. Too often, work feels like a chore, our lives pared down to whatever role it is we wake up to—line workers, medical doctors, pencil pushers, law enforcers, spreadsheet junkies, day laborers, diaper changers. Our countdown to Christmas is all about counting down to a few days off and has little to do with the splendor of an arriving King.
I drive past a Christmas tree lot, and placing my arm against the driver-side window, I flash back a few decades to another day in December, around 7:30 p.m. My nine-year-old nose was pressed against the cold glass of the living room window. I was watching a star flicker above the barren trees, anticipating the arrival of something wonderful.
Flash Back to the Christmas Mission
Snow blanketed the ground from winter’s welcome. The weatherman called for five inches—we got two—but that would be plenty for pulling a sled through the woods. I caught a whiff of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and ran to the kitchen. “Brock, those are still hot!” yelled Mom. Yes, and gooey. “And you need to get started on cleaning that basement!”
I almost forgot. Cleaning the basement. Can’t say I was excited about dusting, vacuuming, and wiping down furniture, but that was my job. Around the holidays, my basement cleaning ritual began with plugging in the Christmas tree lights and spinning up the Andy Williams Christmas album, followed by wiping the crumbs of my just-eaten cookie from the bar countertop. Then it was on to dusting furniture.
When I got to the table where the Christmas tree stood, I stopped. Something about the star on top of the tree—the “Jesus star” as I used to call it—excited me a little more about doing my work. How does the world look from the Jesus star? I wondered.
Tossing aside my dust rag, I rummaged through the toy box and recruited two small action figures to climb the Christmas tree. I imagined these travelers helping each other on their mission and that somehow Christmas would arrive only if they could reach the star at the top.
Halfway up the tree, I heard my Dad’s footsteps on the floor above. “Brock, how’s it coming down there?” I started moving furniture around and shaking a trash bag. “Fine, Dad!” After he walked away, I turned off all the lamps and slid a barstool next to the tree to help my two friends continue their journey.
After they reached the top, I leaned in to be eye level with them so I could see the view as they were seeing it. I was only about seven feet up, but it felt like seven hundred. As I looked out over the basement, Andy Williams was reaching the crescendo of “O Holy Night”. Fa—ll on your knees! O hear—the angel voices! O ni—ght divine! O night—when Christ was born! I no longer saw a room with tables and carpet that needed cleaning but a world that had the light of the Jesus star shining on it.
Swerve into Reality
Back in my car, I swerve into reality. I’m no longer thinking about Andy Williams and Jesus stars. I’m thinking I have five more days to the weekend and a long list of work to get there.
I arrive at my client’s office, say my “good mornings,” check email, drink more coffee, and begin my review of the week’s pending projects. After the usual office bustle of keyboards tapping and laser printers firing up like small jet engines, I notice the immediate office area grows unusually silent. I turn around to find a colleague staring at his computer screen.
“Jim, is everything okay?” I ask. He turns and for the next twenty minutes confides in me about a serious health issue affecting his father. “The doctors have tried everything,” he tells me. “If we can just have one more Christmas with him.”
I listen as Jim talks; I don’t have any special words to make Jim feel better. As a technology consultant, I’m always careful when it comes to talking about religion with clients. But I do say, “Jim, I’ll be praying for your dad and your family.”
Jim looks me in the eyes. “Thanks, Brock. I appreciate that.”
Though I have no idea what will happen with his father or if they will have one more Christmas together, Jim seems relieved by the simple gesture. We turn back to our computers to continue working through our usual spreadsheets and project tasks. A half hour later, Jim turns again and shares a few humorous stories about his dad. He seems like a great guy. We laugh a little, share a little, and turn back to our computers. We continue this routine throughout the day.
Views from the Jesus Star
Later that night as I thought about my conversation with Jim, I marveled that my job, no matter how grinding it can feel at times, often serves as a vehicle God can use to shine His light over a world that needs hope. I was just doing my usual work when Jim needed a listening ear, and he found peace in knowing somebody cared. It was his view from the Jesus star.
It happened the same way for my wife. One day while she was doing laundry, she noticed our teenage daughter sloughing through the hallway. She needed a hug to remind her that in the midst of tough teenage years, she has a family who loves her dearly (and a mom who will do her laundry!). Our daughter’s view from the Jesus star.
My friend Ted told me a similar story. He works on a factory line, going through the same motions thousands of times every day. One of his coworkers noticed Ted had stopped swearing as much at work and had started reading his Bible on breaks. Every now and then, Ted would throw in a “God bless you, man!” as they left the factory at the end of their shift. Ted’s coworker finally had to ask, “Ted, why have you been so happy lately? This job sucks.” Ted was able to share how God had changed his life recently, at a moment when his coworker was going through a rough time of his own. Another view from the Jesus star.
Advent works for me, for my wife, for Ted—for all of us—because it reminds us that even in the mundane tasks of our daily work, we have the opportunity to usher in the arrival of something wonderful, and not just during the Christmas season but every day of the year. Regardless of the particular job function we’re doing at the time, how we function within our jobs matters.
And we are like the Jesus star, pointing the way to an arriving King.
If work is God’s gift to us and an invitation to participate with him in the work of redemption and restoration, it makes sense that we would experience grace and also be the conduits of grace in our work and workplaces. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good work. So, in this season of gift giving and celebrating the gift of grace through Jesus, join us as we consider how to find grace in our work this Advent, in this series, Advent Works.
Thanks to everyone who has invested in the Theology of Work Project! Thanks to your generosity, we were able to meet all our needs for 2017! We ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers and charitable giving in 2018 as we equip Christians to connect to God's purposes for work.