December 16, 2017

Shepherds and the Doctrine of Vocation

The Angel Appears to the Shepherds, von Carolsfeld

By Chaplain Mike

As I outlined yesterday, in Luke’s Christmas story (Luke 2:1-20) there are six verbs describing the actions of the shepherds in response to the Good News the angels spoke to them.

  • The shepherds went (with haste).
  • They found.
  • They saw.
  • They made known the saying that had been told them.
  • They returned.
  • They glorified and praised God.

The first four verbs along with the last one on the list fall clearly into what we might call the category of “spiritual” or “faith” responses.

  • In going to the manger and finding Jesus, we see the classic formula of “seeking and finding” that characterizes persons of faith. In response to God’s grace, with hearts captured by the message of Good News, they were prompted to pursue the One of whom they had been told and they found him by following the clear directions of God’s Word.
  • In seeing Jesus in the manger, they exemplify those who personally appropriate the reality of his saving presence. The word of the Gospel was confirmed to them in their own experience. They went beyond just accepting the word of others and came to recognize the Savior for themselves.
  • Having come to know him, they then made him known. The wonder of Jesus filled them to overflowing and they shared him with the people around them. The story of the One who won their hearts moved to their lips and they found it a natural and joyful act to talk about him with their neighbors.
  • The final set of verbs says that the shepherds glorified and praised God. Well of course they did! They were fully aware that they themselves could never have worked up or brought about such an overwhelming experience of the Gospel. It was from heaven, God’s own doing. He deserved all the credit.

All this provides a wonderful description of “the Christian life” as evangelicals commonly see it. However, there is one verb in the list above that we haven’t discussed yet. To me, it is utterly surprising and liberating.

The Shepherds Share the Good News, von Carolsfeld

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).

They returned.

Returned where? Why, to their flocks, of course. The shepherds went back out to their fields, where they had been tending their sheep. They disappeared back into the countryside. The shepherds went back to work. They returned to their ordinary occupation. They took up the task once more. After a spiritual “night on the town” in Bethlehem, they returned to their campfire, their pastures, and all the mundane duties of feeding, protecting, and taking care of sheep.

For a moment, imagine what would have happened had this event occurred in contemporary America. As news broke about eyewitness testimony from shepherds breathlessly describing their indescribable experiences, these guys would have become instant celebrities.

I mean, think about it. These were men who had seen the very heavens open. A light so bright it could only be called “God’s glory” had shone down on them. They saw angels! And not just a few, but a “multitude of the heavenly host”—a vast army of angels filling the skies. They heard an angel speak! Actual words from heaven! And heavenly singing; a majestic Gloria unlike any concert heard on earth. They had been given an announcement that all of God’s promises were about to be fulfilled—this was to be the turning point in world history. And when these shepherds checked it out, they found it to be just as advertised.

Talk about a breakthrough! Talk about an event to capitalize on for evangelism and revival! If you can’t fill the churches with this, nothing will work. A unique opportunity like this could create a windfall to carry religious media through for years! Think of the book contracts, the TV interviews, the invitations to testify at religious conferences and in churches, the marketing possibilities. Hoopla about this experience would sell out stadiums across the land!

No. The shepherds returned.

Read that again. The shepherds returned—to their flocks, their work, their day to day ordinary lives. As far I know, never to be heard from again in any public fashion.

They didn’t become celebrities. They simply became better shepherds.

With hearts captured by the Gospel, having sought and found and experienced Jesus for themselves, these men went back into the world, into life, into their vocation as transformed people. They didn’t think they had to abandon the profession they had known and take special vows of religious service. They didn’t become “professional” Christians in any way. They didn’t try to keep their experience in the spotlight. They didn’t feel called to develop some ground-breaking ministry out of it. No, the shepherds became God’s representatives in the world they knew, the world where shepherds tended their flocks.

Every Christian has a particular calling from God. With the doctrine of vocation, ordinary relationships, the 9-to-5 routine, taking care of the kids, the work-a-day world—the way we spend most hours of the day—become charged with the presence of God. (LCMS.org)

For too long, many of us have divorced the spiritual from the natural, Christian from human, religion from life. The shepherds show us a better way. No matter how sublime or transforming our experience of God and his grace, we are still called to get up Monday morning and go to work. In Jesus’ name.

Comments

  1. The glory of the Lord, reserved for Old Testament patriarchs and prophets like Moses, Isaiah, Elijah and Jeremiah, was revealed to poor, nomadic, dirty, unclean shepherds. But it is fitting that the angels would come to those of the same occupation and region as David, the man after God’s own heart.

    The other side of the vocation issue are the priests, who had a heavenly call and duty, but did not fulfill it. Even the scribes assisted Herod in hunting down the new-born king. Had the angels come to the priests, they would have sought to kill Jesus even sooner. Often professional ministry digresses into empire-building and self-perpetuation, and serving becomes a mere footnote or distant, nostalgic memory.

  2. Thank you for your emphasis in this post on “they returned.” Lately, through my reading of the Bible, and prayer, I’ve found a stronger call on my life to live out a Jesus centered life. I’ve heard missionaries speak, and am thrilled by their words. However, I know that God is calling me to be right where I am, right now . . . in the midst of home-schooling my kids, taking them to many, many dance classes, volunteering at a cat rescue, and visiting with friends and family. Sometimes I feel like it’s not enough. There must be something more, some special thing that God expects me to jump into. Then I read and pray, and realize that God’s call is still placing me right where I’m at, doing every day things, like shepherding my kids, and giving every mundane moment to God.

  3. Great post! Thanks!

    One can be a missionary right where they are.

    Jesus healed the Garazine demoniac and told him to “go home, and tell of what happened to him.”

    There are plenty of people, all around us that need to hear of the great thing Jesus has done for us, and for them.

    That is a hard enough job, in and of itself.

    • Yeah. Amen to that. Being a “good Christian” is challenging enough in itself one does not need stage & spotlight or even sacrificial self-denial out in a missionary setting to do it ‘rightly’. In the shepherd’s case, glory found them just right where they were doing just what they were supposed to be doing. And really, every day there are mundane tasks all people do, no matter their station in life. When God created Adam & Eve (however the reader envisions this event), it was in a garden, not a mountain peak. No stage presence was desired then. And Adam was to ‘work’ or tend or maintain & replicate what God had done in planting that special garden. As a horticulturist I appreciate that first occupation/vocation: gardener. Man surrounded by God’s glorious natural beauty which was the place of daily visits. That word picture so appealing it still has power to evoke a common longing in all peoples. For the New Testament saint, God’s glory in residence in clay vessels of divine service no matter what place it occupied. We let that light shine in a way that does attract attention from those around us. Not a spotlight on us, but a heavenly light from us. And any vocation can become a beacon to those needing to find their way in a dark & desperate world…

  4. Denise Day Spencer says:

    “They didn’t become celebrities. They simply became better shepherds.”

    A message we so much need to hear and take to heart. Thank you, Mike.

  5. A post at Out of Ur touches on this, in talking about a Eugene Peterson book:

    “Peterson worked with a group of artists. They were dancers and poets and sculptors, and they all worked blue-collar jobs as taxi drivers, waiters, and salesmen—whatever they had to do to pay the rent and put food on the table. Soon enough Peterson realized that “none of them were defined by their jobs—they were artists, whether anyone else saw them as artists, and regardless of whether anyone would ever pay them to be artists.” That is to say, being an artist wasn’t a job for them, but a vocation. Their jobs simply kept them alive so they could pursue their vocations. “Their vocation didn’t come from what anyone thought of them or paid them.”

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Every Christian has a particular calling from God. With the doctrine of vocation, ordinary relationships, the 9-to-5 routine, taking care of the kids, the work-a-day world—the way we spend most hours of the day—become charged with the presence of God.

    Isn’t this also the “Little Way” of St Theriese of Lisieux? Holiness found in everyday routine?

  7. This will go down as one of my very favorite articles here on IM. Thanks, Chaplain MIke.