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.”
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.