When the angels turn up, heaven hits earth with a bang. God’s universe-wide, history-long plan to step into our world is announced to a few working people on a dark hillside. And that’s one of the key things about Christmas – we celebrate every year that God’s work in the world isn’t just ‘then’ (whenever ‘then’ is) but Now. And it’s not just ‘there’ (wherever ‘there’ is) but here.
Looking around you, where can you see God at work today, perhaps even in your daily work? Will you be willing to step aside from the ordinary to pray and worship him? That’s a way to follow the shepherds today.
The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.
I remember hearing once that ‘The book of Proverbs says “Live this way and life will go well.” The books of Job and Ecclesiastes say ” We tried it. It’s not that simple.”‘
Where Proverbs is largely set out as advice from the wise to the young, Ecclesiastes seems more like the private reflections of Solomon in later life. He’s had all insight into the world, and has indulged (and, let’s be honest, over-indulged) all sensual pleasures. And now he finds that it’s all empty – ‘vanity of vanities’.
When he ran out of new things to try, when he recognised that life keeps going round, and that he couldn’t take his wealth and achivements with him, Ecclesiastes found meaning finally only in God (2:24-26).
Of course, some people do find meaning and purpose in life without conscious reference to God – but there must still be something bigger than the self, and longer-term than the moment, for someone who reflects on life to find satisfaction in the long run. Self-indulgence sickens after a while, and even learning becomes lifeless if it is not put to some good use.
So where will I find my meaning?
It feels a bit risky to quote ‘A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.’ For the record, I have a very capable – and wonderful – wife, who is indeed precious to me.
The writer goes on to list the virtues and tireless work of the ‘capable wife’, who seems to be doing all the hands-on running of the household but also running a business, speculating on land deals, caring for the poor and needy, while having strength, dignity and wisdom in abundance. Yet it’s her husband who’s ‘known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.’ No wonder the chapter ends with the plea, ‘Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.’
Is it a coincidence that this chapter is said to have been written by a woman, ‘the mother of King Lemuel’? A queen mother probably knew more than most about the reality of work and status in a patriarchal society, and of how much happened behind the scenes, uncommented on. In a society which had no prominent role outside the home for women, their ability and industry often went unnoticed.
Even with more freedom in public roles for women, we still live with a lot of inequality between male and female, and though this chapter may jar today, the combined weight of domestic and ‘professional’ work still weighs more heavily on women than on men. Perhaps the most useful way to take these words to heart is to resolve not just to work for better equality, but to notice and celebrate the work of all those who support others in their public life and work – male or female. Few people, if any, find and keep public success without private support. Let’s celebrate the work of those who stay in the background – whoever they are.