Early in the history of God’s people, leaders often were also shepherds or herdsmen. But, by the time Jesus was born, culture had changed. God’s people had been exiled and partially resettled in the Promised Land. Roman rule had established itself firmly in control. Rulers came from circles of influence, power, and wealth. And, somewhere down the food chain, shepherds wandered the hills with their flocks.
God’s choice to announce Jesus birth and proclaim Him as the Christ to shepherds in the hills, at night, teaches a principle: God uses people whom most would overlook. These men wielded no power or influence. In fact, they lived solitary lives away from society. With their sling, rod, staff, flute, and dogs, they relentlessly nursed, protected, and provided for their flocks of sheep. They lived in tents, not palaces.
When God lit up the Judean hillsides with His glory, He revealed that His attention is infinite, not forgetting anyone; His creativity is unlimited, not hindered by human social structures; and His ability is endless, able to order events in any way He chooses. Through the shepherds, we learn about ourselves, too. Each person is useful to God, noticed by God, and included in His plans. Ordinary is no hurdle when God chooses to use someone. His will is our opportunity.
Joseph, Jesus’ earthly step-father, was a simple, ordinary carpenter. He didn’t appear before Jesus’ birth and disappeared after Jesus was twelve. We know little about Him; yet, his story is in God’s narrative of redemption. Many portrayals of Joseph gloss over the raw material and picture an almost perfect man. Instead, Joseph was a champion who faced overcoming the shape into which his world had molded him.
Joseph was righteous, but still a man. He didn’t recognize God at work when Mary was found to be with child. He had followed Jewish customs to seek betrothal. To him, betrothal had become betrayal. The costs were high for him, as well as Mary. God’s plan was risky, and on the surface, not very God-like.
Joseph disliked God’s plan. God had to take an opposed and fuming Joseph and remold him into Jesus’ earthly father. Joseph went further; he disagreed with God’s plan. In fact, he plotted to oppose and stop God’s plan. None-the-less, God redirected Joseph to become a key figure in every Christian’s history.
The Christmas story shows us that God uses people who are opposed to the way He works. He is unhindered by opposition.
Luke 1&2, John 2, Matthew 1
The Christmas story shows us that God uses people who are overwhelmed by His plans. He is unstopped by overwhelm.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, was overwhelmed by God’s message that she, a virgin, would bear His son. All that she knew of herself and her world was shaken. These things couldn’t be. But, she believed in God. So, He guided her through overwhelm to change her world.
Mary intensely experienced God and learned that He could use her only if she remained submissive to Him. Through the angels announcement, her virgin conception, Joseph’s acceptance, Elizabeth’s greeting, the shepherd’s story, Simeon’s blessing, Anna’s attention, and Jesus’ youthful disappearance God helped her embrace His plans.
“Overwhelm” describes experiencing something that overpowers one’s thoughts, emotions, or senses. It’s the gap between human capacity and divine activity. People react to overwhelm differently: intellectually, physically, or emotionally. Mary reacted intellectually and learned that she needn’t make sense of God’s will to obey it.
Ultimately, Mary embraced God’s work in her life. At a wedding in Cana, she pushed others into an experience that would affect them like hers had affected her. She had learned that she could grow in her faith by continually examining God’s activity.
Listening guides coming soon.
Luke 1:5-23, 57-59
The Christmas story illustrates that God has a place in His plans for ordinary people who have honest doubts about Him. Doubts are hesitations behind our “official” statements. They relate to what we really believe about God, not what we know we should believe about God. There’s a difference.
Most people are ordinary. Others see them as unlikely to pull far ahead of the pack or to attract attention to themselves. They have some doubts. They need encouragement that God can still use them.
Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, had serious doubts just beneath the surface. Though a priest, He wasn’t sure God could really do what He said, even when told by an angel. That’s a strong doubt.
Doubt arises when a person reacts with hesitation or withdrawal when God displays or reveals Himself to them in a manner contradictory to their real beliefs about Him. People see God’s power as non-existent, invisible, manipulative, miraculous, or infinite. When His revelation and our beliefs collide, doubts can weaken our trust in Him and obedience to Him. The can even threaten our participation in His plan.
God overcame Zechariah’s doubt and altered the emotions, conversations, and thoughts of those around him… pretty significant world-change. The first steps to seeing God work similarly in our lives is to discover where we are in relationship to God, then to move where He is. Luckily for us, God is undeterred by our doubts.
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