When I talk to people about calling, sometimes I like to start by asking them if their call stories are more like the shepherds or the wise men.  Often, as folks look back over their own faith journeys, the answer is, “Both.”

The Christmas story is a good reminder that God calls us in different ways at different times.  Luke tells us that on the night Jesus was born, a group of unsuspecting shepherds worked in the field.  We know the story well, out of the blue, an angel appeared and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (who wouldn’t be!!).  The angel announced the joyous news of the birth of the Savior, and told the shepherds where to find the baby.  The call couldn’t have been more clear or direct. After the announcement and an angelic host praising God, the shepherds went immediately to Bethlehem where they shared the heavenly message with the Mary and Joseph. (I wonder who was more surprised that the first proclaimers of the gospel were shepherds – the new parents or the shepherds themselves.)  Mission completed, the shepherds returned to their flocks — but they went with changed hearts – ones that were overflowing with praise.

The wise men (or astrologers), had a very different experience.  They were well educated, and somehow they knew that a change in the night sky indicated the birth of a new king.  These folks had no heavenly visitors, nor were they given instructions about where to find Jesus and his parents.  Although they had a call, their path was not as clear as the shepherds.  They did what was logical – they made the long journey to Jerusalem, the holy city, where they reasoned that a new king would be.  But after seeking counsel from the religious leaders, they learned they were in the wrong town–they struggled a bit on the way to figuring out their call. Once they arrived in Bethlehem, the star guided them to the young child. After they worshiped the new king, they received a specific word in a dream – a warning not to return to Herod.

Sometimes our calls are as clear and as unexpected as the one the shepherds received on that hillside so long ago.  Other times, we must wait and watch for a subtle shift in the night sky, then do our best to follow the signs as we seek to determine where the path will lead us.

This is true for us as individuals, but it is also true for the churches and other ministry contexts that we serve.  Perhaps you are fortunate to serve a setting that is crystal clear about its call and has a clear path forward. If this is true for your setting, encourage those you serve alongside to respond immediately to this unique (but probably limited) window of opportunity.  Make haste to Bethlehem!!

It is more likely that your organization is sensing the seismic shifts in the landscape and you are drawing on all of our resources to figure out what that means as you journey, in stops and starts, toward an as yet unknown destination. Don’t be afraid to seek counsel as you go, remaining mindful there are Herods with their own agendas who would not hesitate to sabotage you as you seek your way forward. Despite the obstacles you encounter, press on. The star will reappear and the way will eventually become clear (remember it probably took this group two years to get to Bethlehem).

This Christmas season, my prayer is that you will rejoice and find peace in whatever way you sense God calling, because in both cases the outcome was the same:  both groups ended up in the right place and both groups fulfilled their mission.  And after an encounter with the new born king, both groups left with full hearts and overflowing spirits.  May it be the same for each of us, and for all those that we serve, this holy season.

Tracy Hartman
Tracy was a member of the first class of M. Div. students at BTSR and won the Miller Award for Academic Achievement upon her graduation in 1995. Her graduate work at Union included ground-breaking research into the relationship between parish setting and preaching style for women pastors. Dr. Hartman teaches preaching and directs the seminary’s Supervised Ministry and Doctor of Ministry programs. She is the author of Letting the Other Speak: Proclaiming the Stories of Biblical Women and co-author of New Proclamation Commentary. Dr. Hartman is active in Baptist life and has served as staff member and interim pastor to several Virginia churches. She enjoys preaching throughout the region. She is a coach for CHC.