The Christmas story is about obedience

by Kimberly Pennington, National Correspondent |
Presentation in the Temple (1612-1614) by Peter Paul Rubens.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christmas Examiner) -- The popular Christmas song "Mary Did You Know?" contemplates what the mother knew about her infant son Jesus.

The Bible offers only glimpses into the lives of Jesus' earthly parents and no real explanation why Mary and Joseph, out of all people who would ever live on earth, were chosen to care for the Son of God during His childhood. One thing those brief insights do reveal is that the people privileged to be an intimate part of the Messiah's early childhood shared a common trait: immediate obedience to the Word of God.

Consider for example Mary's response to the angel Gabriel's message that she, an unmarried virgin, would conceive and give birth to the Son of God. Having no question other than how this could physically be possible, Mary humbly received Gabriel's explanation and declared herself to be God's servant who would accept His will for her life.

She did not utter a word about the need to first discuss the matter with her fiancé Joseph or her parents, nor did she ponder the pluses and minuses of how this turn of events would impact her life goals and community reputation. Her lips merely formed a reply of immediate obedience: "Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

Similarly, Joseph demonstrated immediate obedience in his response to the situation. Upon learning of Mary's unplanned pregnancy, Joseph intended to quietly break off the engagement. But when God told him in a dream to do otherwise, Joseph did not first debate with Him the merits and the flaws of the action. Matthew 1:24 states that as soon as he awoke from his sleep, he followed God's instructions and made Mary his wife, keeping her a virgin until after Christ's birth: immediate obedience.

Joseph responded similarly at other times in young Jesus' life.

Twice, he was instructed to relocate his young family to other countries: The first time was to protect Jesus from the murderous wrath of King Herod and the second was to bring Him back to the land from which the Messiah's would arise.

On both occasions, God gave instructions with no detailed explanation -- not even a mention that Old Testament prophecies would be fulfilled with the actions -- yet Joseph heeded those instructions with no comment about inconvenience, stress, or cost: immediate obedience.

Though far less involved in Jesus' childhood than Mary and Joseph, other groups of people known to have worshipped the Christ Child were also characterized by immediate obedience.

When angels from heaven announced Jesus' birth to shepherds in a field, they went in haste to find the manger and reported what they had been told: immediate obedience. The shepherds were not even commanded to go find Jesus. The angel who made the announcement assumed they would go and simply provided information on how to find the Child.

The wise men from the east made no attempt to report Jesus' whereabouts to Herod as originally planned when God instructed them to return home by a different route: immediate obedience.

Strikingly absent from Jesus' infancy were local political and religious leaders. Despite having accurate knowledge of where the Christ could be found, there is no evidence that Herod, the chief priests, or the scribes made any effort to personally seek Him even though they were well aware that others believed He had arrived: immediate disobedience.

Immediate obedience was not easy. Nothing like this had ever happened before. There were no examples to follow.

Joseph and the shepherds feared; Mary was greatly troubled at first and pondered these events even while treasuring them in her heart; the wise men had nothing to follow but a star. The aged Simeon had to accept by faith God's promise that he would see the Messiah before he died, and, the prophetess Anna endured a lengthy widowhood which put her in position to be in the temple at the exact time of Jesus' arrival.

Mary and Joseph did not understand God's complete plan. Even after they had experienced His miraculous conception and birth, they still marveled at the things said about Jesus.

Despite the unknowns and hardships, Scripture never indicates that any of these people regretted or second-guessed their willing participation in this turning point of history. Their immediate obedience gave them personal access to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords—access which is still offered today.

The Babe in the manger eventually walked to the cross to pay the penalty for human sin and rebellion against God. To those who accept that payment, Jesus offers the gift of eternal and abundant life. To those who regularly practice immediate obedience, Jesus offers love and a personal, experiential knowledge of Himself: "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him" (John 14:21).

As you celebrate Christmas, remember that the Child is no longer in the manger. Today, He sits at the right hand of the Father waiting for the appointed time to return when every eye will see Him and every knee shall bow and tongue confess Him as Lord. When He comes again, will you be surprised having only heard about a baby in a manger, or will you experience a joyful reunion with One who has already manifested Himself to you through your familiarity with His Word and immediate obedience to His commands?