You wake slowly, your eyes adjusting to the dim shadows of the morning. You lie still under the weight of the layers of bedcovers and the sleep you are still rising from. The air is pregnant with anticipation, like relatives crowded into a hospital waiting room.
Yes, you remind yourself, it is Christmas morning.
I’m someone who very much believes in the magic of Christmas. Not in the Santa-put-presents-under-the-tree kind of magic, but the magic of a world somehow made new through the birth of baby in a manger.
And this Christmas, more than any previous year, I am struck by the culture-defying radicalness of: God – the infinite Creator – not simply being contained in a physical body, but choosing to be born a carpenter.
He could have been born a religious leader, a political ruler, or even a tradesmen.
But he chose the slow work of hand-to-tool, tool-to-wood chiseling.
He chose carpentry.
Wendell Berry has recently become one of my favourite authors, mostly because he writes beautifully on agrarianism and its integration with faith.
He writes on how we have removed pleasure from work and instead turned work into drudgery. When in fact God created Adam to work and cultivate the garden. Work is part of the essence of man.
In order to have leisure and pleasure, we have mechanized and automated and computerized our work. But what does this do but divide us ever more from our work and our products — and, in the process, from one another and the world? What have farmers done when they have mechanized and computerized their farms? They have removed themselves and their pleasure from their work.
The nearly intolerable irony in our dissatisfaction is that we have removed pleasure from our work in order to remove “drudgery” from our lives.
-Wendell Berry, “The Art of the Commonplace”
We invent more machines to do work more efficiently, and in the process, lose the joy of putting pencil to paper, of kneading bread, of touching soil.
The Greeks believed that the goal of human beings was to become like their gods who were solitary, self-sufficient and uninvolved in the world, Tim Keller writes in “Every Good Endeavor”, and so they strove to free themselves from menial labor and devote themselves solely to contemplation.
But, listen you who are weary of work, our God is not a greek God.
He is not above menial labor. In fact, He chose to enter into that labor.
He chose to sweat salty in sweltering Mediterranean heat. He chose to hammer nails into unwieldy wood, one blow at a time.
He chose the splinters.
We often say that Jesus’ ministry started when he was around 30, with the baptism by John in the Jordan.
I think Jesus’ ministry started with when he was born –
Because even though we know not much about his years growing up, I’d like to think that Jesus showed people what it meant to work faithfully, with joy.
He was redeeming people’s disdain of labor, showing us that maybe the slow work of making the raw beautiful is exactly the way God intended it to be.
So, this Christmas, I’m thinking about the joy of physical, seemingly menial, labor.
Of cleaning. Decluttering my closet and getting rid of outfits I don’t wear anymore. Folding skirts and tucking them away in wire drawers.
Of snowblowing. My face numb from the flurry of snow hurling towards it as I soldier bravely forward.
Of cooking. My hands wet and spice-ful from massaging chicken thighs with turmeric and coconut milk.
The days following Christmas, the Almighty God was trained to chisel raw, splintered wood into chairs.
And I pray that in the days following this Christmas, He teaches me how to partner with Him in this slow reordering of a broken world. Even if it may be through labor the world may deem mundane and routine.
I want to declare with each fold of laundry, each making of bed, each baking of chicken – that yes, the carpenter is here.
Yes, He has come.