Which job would you rather have? by Nelson T. Dy

Posted: December 19, 2012 in Christmas
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Christmas is just a few days away and amidst all the gift-buying, traffic-rushing, party-hopping activities, it is a time for us to reflect on the real reason why we are celebrating this holiday.

Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing with you some thoughts and stories from our beloved OMF Lit authors on what Christmas really means for us who believe that that Child born in the manger is the salvation of this world.

Nelson DyToday, we’re featuring award-winning author Nelson T. Dy’s (Your First Job, How to Mend a Broken Heart, Honeymoon Never Ends) thoughts on how we can learn about job satisfaction from the Christmas story. You don’t think the two have anything in common? Then read on to find out how 🙂


Which job would you rather have?  One where you do the same thing day in and day out? Or one where you get to do something new each day?

Before we answer impulsively, Diogenes Allen has surprising insights on the question. He is the professor emeritus and former professor of philosophy at the Princeton Theological Seminary. (With a first name like Diogenes, why are we not surprised?)

Allen argues that both types of jobs — the monotonous and the stimulating — are represented in the familiar Christmas story. The story tells us of the shepherds and wise men who got to see the infant Jesus.  Yet a careful study of the Nativity account shows that the shepherds were at right there at the Nativity, while the wise men arrived way late.  Why was that?  The clue lies in the job description of the two groups.

To Allen, the shepherds symbolize the common laborer whose work is described by sheer repetition: guard the sheep against predators, lead them to pasture and water, check them for diseases, shear off the wool and sell it.  Shepherding has not changed much over the millenia.

In contrast to “common laborer,” Allen classifies the wise men as “intellectuals.” They were masters of astronomy and mathematics in ancient cultures which believed that human destiny was somehow linked with the stars. Kings sought (and paid well) the star-gazers, whose observation of the heavens would tell them what was to happen next. This is much like modern CEOs hiring experts to advise them which way the economy or the market will go. We can imagine these wise men coming up with something fresh each day, reading the latest scrolls, discussing the hottest topics and solving new problems.

Yet, it was the shepherds, the ones with the comparatively lowly jobs, who had the honor of seeing Jesus first. Allen astutely deduced that the common laborer gets to understand life’s realities sooner than the intellectual. And one basic reality is this:  A worker’s life tends to be monotonous. The salesman may have beaten last month’s quota, but what counts now is this month’s output so he can keep feeding his family. The accountant updates the same spreadsheet day in and day out. The call center agent answers the same questions during his shift.

Such a daily grind creates a gnawing restlessness.  Deep down we wonder if there is something more in life than just work.  Does this mean the intellectual will never feel such a longing? Allen argues that they will; it just takes longer for them than for the shepherds. After the cerebral novelties have worn off, they ask the same question, “Is this all that there is?” Proof? The author of Ecclesiastes, said to be the wisest man who ever lived, lamented “Meaningless, meaningless! All is meaningless…  There is nothing new under the sun.”

Don’t get me wrong. Work can satisfy our need for productivity, identity and significance. But work alone cannot satisfy fully and deeply. This is where the advent of Christ comes in. He offers to satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts. But the one who admits his inner void first gets to experience it first. That is the metaphor Allen sees wherein the shepherds found the Christ-child first, then the wise men. Those who toil under obscurity and monotony gets to taste God’s love earlier than those who distract themselves with so many interesting things to do.

Are you a laborer or an intellectual?  The Christmas story carries the wonderful lesson that no matter what is our station in life, all are welcome to approach the One Who offers abundant and eternal life. Why not discover Him now, as the shepherds did, rather than later like the wise men?  Then we will experience the blessing which the angelic chorus proclaimed that holy night, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”

Merry Christmas to you and your whole family!


  1. Ryan says:

    Sir, I don’t agree with the point you’re trying to make about “workers” being more receptive to God’s leading than “intellectuals”. On the contrary, just from a worldly perspective, “intellectuals” tend to get paid more for their efforts, which means most of them can detach themselves from the burden of making ends meet, and find time to reflect on how God has blessed them and their families.

    From a Christian perspective, a person’s status as a “worker” or “intellectual” has nothing to do with the quality of his relationship with God. Indeed as you say the shepherds encountered God’s presence. However, “intellectuals” like Nicodemus and the apostle Paul also had that privilege. Where then is the advantage of one over the other?

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