And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)
What does Christmas look like to you? Families laughing together in your living room? Tables overflowing with food at pot luck dinner? The stash of presents waiting for you under the tree?
What about nurses on Christmas Day duty, dealing with emergencies? Or bus drivers shuttling revellers to and from their celebrations?
Business-as-usual and Christmas don’t go hand-in-hand for many of us. But on the night that baby Jesus was born in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem, who first got the news of the birth of the Messiah?
A group of shepherds. Not kings or white-collared officials, but the working class. Men working out in the fields heard the very first public announcement of the birth of Jesus.
With that in mind, we thought it was time to take Christmas back to those to whom it first came.
Armed with simple gift bags and Thank You cards, we hit the streets in search of people working on Christmas day. Among those we found: Wong Chong Seng, 69, a cobbler whose work does not stop for the holidays; Rosli bin Sapthu, 50, a bus captain who loves his job, even if he has to work on Christmas Day; Davis, 55, a security guard; Seah Ngee Chuan, 30, a nurse at a local hospital’s A&E department; and Hamja, 25, a young landscape worker from Bangladesh.
When we asked if they felt like they were missing out on the festivities, Uncle Wong chuckled and shook his head as he artfully polished the shoe in his hand. He had to work to earn a living, he said, Christmas Day or not. “But I will work and go home to have dinner together with my family.”
Jesus himself was a carpenter by trade, likely for most of his life on earth. It wouldn’t be surprising if his own birthday (before it became known as Christmas) was business-as-usual – say, making something in his workshop. Just like he did every day.
And just like Hamja will be doing come Dec 25. He does so with a smile, he said. “We enjoy ourselves in the workplace, all of us working together.” We met the Bangladeshi worker, who has spent the last three years at work away from family, along East Coast Parkway, where he spends his days pruning bushes and maintaining the greenery with his co-workers.
Far too often, Christmas feels more like our birthday than the birthday of the greatest Servant Leader that ever lived. A day where we treat ourselves to good food and wait expectantly for presents. But the first guests invited to Jesus’ original birthday party 2,000 years ago were working men, many of them representing the role Jesus was sent to us to fulfil – Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), who came not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28).
So as you head out this Christmas, share the joy of the season with more than just your friends and family. Like the shepherds who left the manger singing the praises of the newborn Saviour King to everyone they met, we can pass on the good cheer to all who cross our paths. The Uber driver. The waiter. The provision shop uncle.
When asked what he wants for Christmas, bus captain Rosli said what he would most like was for people to appreciate those who work to keep things running smoothly while everyone else celebrates. “I think appreciation (of what we do) is what makes me happy. That is very important.”
To those who are working on Christmas Day – whether you’re a nurse, security guard, Checkpoint official, soldier, pastor, full-time parent, retail salesman, journalist, hawker, fireman, cab driver, cleaner – thank you. Jesus is the reason for the season, but you’re the reason we can celebrate it.