What happens after Christmas? I’m not talking about what happens with our empty boxes, our endless piles of wrapping paper, or even the post-Christmas blues that come with the realization that it’s all over.
But what happened after the first Christmas?
"When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” - Luke 2:15-20
We know the story; we hear it every Christmas. The angels announce this scandalous message of grace that arrived in the birth of a baby boy. This rag-tag group of shepherds are for some crazy reason the ones that hear about this message and so they go to meet the baby Jesus.
But notice what happens when it’s all over.
The shepherds went back to work.
They went back to their flocks, caring for the sheep. They got back to work feeding, protecting, and watching over their sheep. Upon meeting the incarnate Christ, the shepherds don’t give up everything to become priests, they go back to their normal work and glorifying God while they do it.
In the book Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (which highlighted this insight of Luther’s), it writes:
For these shepherds do not run away into the desert, they do not don monk's garb, they do not shave their heads, neither do they change their clothing, schedule, food, drink, nor any external work. They return to their place in the fields to serve God there!
Grace changes everything. Grace sets the captives free. It brings the dead to life. It gives sight to the blind. And when grace comes to ordinary shepherds it changes everything, yet at the same time in some odd way some things are just like they were before.
It changes everything because grace has indeed shown up in a manger. The promise of the gifts that come to even people like the shepherds is life-altering. When grace shows up in the manger, it’s not about the gifts that we bring, but it’s about the gifts we receive.
The post-Christmas response of the shepherds is to do the work that God created them to do. God gave them sheep, so they care for their sheep. And their work didn’t look all that much different after the birth of Jesus, but everything was different. Because as they cared for those sheep, they “glorified and praised God for all they had heard and seen.”
They did their work, glorifying God.
"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” - Colossians 3:17
They didn’t have to change their work, they didn’t have to Christianize their work, heck they didn’t even have to donate a portion of their work’s earnings. They simply did their work and glorified God.
When the holidays end and the New Year begins, there is often the sense of entering back into the real world. As you enter the normal places that you were in before Christmas, may you enter those same places doing the same jobs but with a a reminder that we do our work in light of everything we’ve seen and heard.