Providence and Responsibility: A Christmas Story

December 4, 2021

Matthew 1:22-24 NIV

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

Today's Reading: Matthew 1:22-25

Devo Author: Sam Hannon

Date: December 4, 2021

One aspect of the Christmas season that I enjoy most is the food. There are a few dishes or treats I enjoy in this season that I don’t get at other times of the year. One of my favorites is my grandmother’s (Mama Grace) chocolate pie. It is DEEElicous. It truly stands above every other chocolate pie I have ever tasted. Here is the good news: before she passed, she taught my wife, Amy, how to make it. Every bite reminds me of my grandmother and her legacy in our family. Now, in order to make this pie, you have to have the right ingredients. You cannot substitute pudding for the pie filling (ridiculous) or chocolate mousse (nice try); you have to use real chocolate and stir it in slowly. To make this pie correctly, there is a lot of stirring and a few arm cramps.

Sometimes the right ingredients make all the difference. The story of the Nativity has many elements or ingredients. There are so many plot lines, characters, and concepts swirling around. As I was revisiting the Christmas story this year, I noticed a couple of key ingredients I had not considered before. These concepts are way above the ground level events of the story; yet they are integrated into every aspect of the story. What ingredients did I notice for the first time? The Christmas story is really an intersection of God’s providence and human responsibility.

God was providentially working to enact His plan of salvation through the incarnation of the Savior. A virgin birth, prophecies fulfilled, angelic hosts, and astronomical signs – this was a divine event. Before a Savior was born in the town of David, the Lord had been at work for thousands of years to bring it about. At the same time, this story involved the lives of real humans like Mary and Joseph. This happened for them in real time. In the story, Joseph and Mary obeyed and followed the Lord. What was providentially willed from the heavens came to be through the responsibility of two human beings. God willed, Joseph and Mary followed. God prophesied, Joseph and Mary fulfilled. The angel commanded, Joseph and Mary obeyed.

God’s Providence and Human Responsibility are often presented in contrast to one another. Which one is driving the affairs of the world? Which one is primary? I think today’s passage shows they are not battling one another as much as they are working together towards the same goal.

As we take in a familiar story this Advent season, allow yourself to be moved to reverence, awe, and worship as the long-awaited Son of David arrives in Bethlehem. See the providential hand of God moving as the story unfolds. And don’t miss the people! Be inspired by the characters in the story. While God willed this narrative to be, real people had to choose to act and obey to see it come to be.

The angels summarized it perfectly:
    “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14 NIV).