Simple Obedience : The Christmas Story in Your Life
Have you ever listened, when all the stories of the birth of Jesus are told, for the many instances of simple obedience that happened around the story? Simple obedience – just doing what you are directed to do! Of course that begs the question, “How do you know what to do and what not to do?” which leads to a discussion of listening to God in deeper relationship and hearing from Him in some kind of on-going communication.
Really all of these things are tied together. Relationship, hearing & obedience.
The list of people in the Christmas story is really impressive, beginning with Mary herself. My wife once asked me if Mary could have said, “NO.” And of course the answer is, “YES.” That is why we have the record of her obedience … to give us an example of obedience in the face of terrible hardship. Her decision to say, “YES” was not an easy one, if you are taking all the ramifications for her into account.
Teen pregnancy while engaged, punishable by death by stoning; ostracism from family and friends; rejection by Joseph, her fiancé. Her reasons to say NO to this angel were compelling indeed. But she said, “Be it unto me according to your word.”
Joseph likewise, had choices to make, and they were being made, when he dreamed a dream. His dream set him on a different and difficult course, saying “YES” to God and God’s plan for him and for Mary, his new wife to be.
Zacharias & Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptizer, were also faced with visions and dreams which set their course and the course of their son, even to his untimely death at the hands of Herod.
The shepherds and here in today’s reading, the Magi: men of learning and study, men of science, likely men of wealth, who traveled a great distance to pay homage; to worship the new King of Kings.
None of these obeyed the heavenly visions at no cost. Simple obedience always costs us something. But without simple obedience, the Christmas story and all that follows from it in our lives and in the lives of billions across the world, would not have happened as it has. Nor would the story continue to unfold as it does today without… simple obedience.
This second Sunday of Christmastide we have also entered a New Year, … a new decade!
I chuckled yesterday as I listened to one of the recaps of the decade past, and heard that they are trying to figure out what to call it. Can’t call it the zero’s or the oughts’. One suggestion was the Y2K’s. Whatever we call it, we have passed through the first decade of a new century.
And just as in that very first decade, even now, in the midst of our high technology and "higher" learning, the learning that we do in relationship to God and in simple obedience to His Word, is still some of the most difficult and life-changing learning that we do in our lifetime. But it’s the learning that has the potential to change the world!
In this new year… In this next decade – (if we have another decade in God’s plan, ) what will simple obedience look like for you… or for me? Do you have some idea of what God is asking you to say YES to in your life? Do you have some dream that is guiding your footsteps like the star that guided the wise men to Bethlehem? Unless we act on them, dreams and visions have a way of getting fuzzy in our minds, don’t they? We can easily forget some of the things that God has asked of us, if we do not say YES to him in simple obedience.
How do we dream dreams and see visions? How can we see beyond the hum-drum, day-in-day-out of the rat race that is American life? How can we lift our heads up from having our noses to the grind stone? We are used to phrases like that describing our reality. We are NOT that used to entering into the reality of Biblical revelation and relationship. For many the language of visions and dreams is only used in corporate America and the visions and dreams are of profits and success.
How do we dream dreams and see visions… for God? From God?
We have talked at length in the last year or so about three steps that are formative in our walk with the Lord – three steps that place us in His will and into the flow of what God is doing in the world today.
Willingness … Availability … and Obedience. We all know them well.
But we can see from the readings of our Christmastide season that both willingness and availability arise out of a mindset – actually a heart set on obedience. A heart set to hear from God and do what He asks of us, is the prerequisite to even our willingness. It is here (in our hearts) that the course is set, to follow God or to go our own way. A Heart Set on Obedience! That is my prayer for us, … for me, for my family and for our church in this new year … in this new decade.
I believe that obedience is the key to the larger vision and dream that God has for this world today. It is the key to the vision that God has for each of our lives and for our life together.
And as we learn from our readings this morning and throughout the Christmas stories, obedience is not really convenient, very often. It is not really logical, in many cases – at least by our logic. It is not really easy – doesn’t just go along with the flow. The fact is that obedience will set you apart. It will mark you as different. It will put you at odds with the world in some situations. Obedience is really different!
Obedience starts in our submission to God. Yesterday afternoon after the Rose Bowl, where Texas Christian ( a David-sized school) beat Wisconsin ( A Goliath-sized school), the MVP for the game from TCU was asked about the little guy status of TCU. On national TV he quoted 1 Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time He may exalt you” Obedience begins with our humility and submission to God. It begins with our desire to do HIS thing, not ours.
And obedience means doing HIS thing, HIS way. The Lord tells us in the Psalms that His ways are higher than our ways. Over and over again I am reminded by God that my ways are ground level – his ways are heaven level! We pray over and over again that His will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN. We are the agents for the fulfillment of that prayer! Obedience is the key.
And so with Paul, once again, as several times before I make my prayer for the New Year:
"that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe."
I pray that as you come to this wisdom and revelation you will adopt an attitude of submission and obedience to God that is the bedrock and foundation of all that can be done in His Name.
And I pray that you will, from that place, find the God sized dreams and visions for your life that He is putting in your heart – by His Holy Spirit.
In the Name of His beloved Son, Jesus!