Luke 2:16-20: “They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.”

The shepherds were rushing to see Jesus and found Mary and Joseph with their baby boy who perfectly fit the description the angels just gave to them: a baby lying in a manger. Out of town visitors, the family found shelter in a barn where Mary gave birth to her baby. She converted a feeding trough into a baby bed, so that’s where Jesus laid sleeping. This confirmed the angel’s report, and the shepherds got really excited. As they related their story to Joseph and Mary, Mary soaked up every word coming from the shepherds’ mouths.

This is a great example how faith works. Faith without steps of faith is really dead in its tracks, literally. In all reality, faith expresses itself in action. Mary and Joseph both did some huge steps of faith – Mary accepting to carry Jesus, the Son of God, inside her womb and Joseph accepting to marry pregnant Mary, knowing the child was not his. Both were separately approached by Angel Gabriel, and the rest is history.

Imagine this had happened to you. Can you picture the skepticism of your friends and neighbors? Yes, you had one life-changing event: an angel spoke to you when no one else was around. This was it though – this angel never showed up again. Angels are God’s messengers and are not supposed to be the sole reason why we believe. The reason why we believe lies in the reason for the Christmas season. God puts things into perspective, and He throws out seeds of hope. Our willing hearts receiving those seeds represent the fertile soil, and our subsequent growth in maturity is the result.

Mary treasured the conversation with the shepherds and stored it away in her heart, which is really the wise thing to do. And should you experience an affirmation or encouraging situation that means a lot to you: follow her example and store it away in your heart. We all have precious moments from time to time, and we better commit them to memory when they occur. Life is an ongoing battle! Guess what:

We need to remember the good times; this will keep us going through the hard times.

Faith is never meant to be walked out alone. Joseph and Mary had each other, but even that is not enough. Faith cannot be lived out very well in isolation; faith is meant to be experienced together. The shepherds played a crucial role here. They brought their faith experience to the table and shared it with Mary and Joseph. This was music to their ears and life to their bones. It encouraged them. Listening to those shepherds talk strengthened their faith. So don’t be surprised if your faith is not growing without having friends around who share their faith experience with you. Mary and Joseph needed that. So do you and me. Take it or leave it:

We need each other to keep going.

Matthew 1:22-21: “As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

Faith sometimes means acting against your own instincts!

Joseph, engaged to Mary, found himself in a challenging situation. What would you do if your fiance tells you a story that sounds like a lame excuse?  Nothing made sense to Joseph anymore after seeing his fiance returning from her recent family visit, three months pregnant. Pregnancies have always been evidence that a man and a woman had sexual relations. Claiming otherwise is foolish, which is why Mary’s pregnancy remains a hot topic. A woman getting pregnant without a guy being involved – why would God do such a thing?

However, this is Mary Joseph was dealing with here, his very own Mary.  He thought he knew her.  It puzzled him to think that she would go behind his back with a secret relationship, dishing a lie to explain away her pregnancy, and asking him to marry her to cover it all up.  That certainly was not the Mary he was familiar with.

In sleepless nights to follow Joseph would wrestle with the prospect of getting married to cover up what he believed to be a lie. After agonizing over his decision, he was prepared to quietly break the engagement. God, however, anticipated Joseph’s reaction and sent Him an angel with an important message reassuring him that Mary had told the truth. According to Matthew’s gospel, this is what the angel told Joseph (Matthew 1:20):

“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” 

Not only had God anticipated Joseph’s reaction, He had also anticipated the world’s skepticism regarding the whereabouts of Mary’s pregnancy. So, 600 years before these events transpired, God foretold them. Isaiah wrote the famous prophecy (Isaiah 7:14):

“The Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son.”

Even though God had revealed His intentions and sent angels and prophets to confirm His message, it still requires faith to believe Mary’s account.  We know that Joseph believed and followed through with the angel’s instructions. He became Mary’s husband, named Mary’s child “Jesus”, and believed that the child she carried is the Son of God.

Similar to Joseph, we too have a choice to make. Would you take that leap of faith and believe the story of Christmas to be true?

“Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of Your plan
Help me be strong, help me be, help me

Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy”

(Mary’s Song co-written by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton)

Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen.”

Obeying God blindly reveals that we trust Him infinitely. This is also called: stepping out in faith. Abraham is a prime example. He left his home turf and everything that was familiar to him to go on a journey with unknown destination. Here is what God told Abraham (Genesis 12:1):

“Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”

Leaving our home and migrating to completely unknown territory is a great challenge for everyone, and so it was for Abraham. God challenged Abraham more than once in his lifetime, and he responded to whatever God called him to do, which is why he is called the Father of Faith today.

Have you ever challenged someone to do something that seemed quite daunting to the other person, and yet, you knew, this person is going to finish the task and grow in the process? It could be a scenario at work; it could be a parenting situation. Here is the deal: Would you ever belittle the outcome of the person who went to work for you, tackled the issue, and the result was less than perfect? Probably not! Maybe you would offer some constructive criticism, but all in all you would encourage the person who just jumped into cold water for you.

In the same manner, whenever God challenges His children to do something, He is not expecting perfection. Jesus had Peter’s back when He challenged him to get out of the boat, as we read in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 14:29-31):

“Come,” he [Jesus] said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

If we obey God we can rest assured He has our backs. Maybe it’s nerve-racking, but we won’t regret following through with whatever God puts on our minds and hearts to do. James strongly supports this idea in his letter (James 1:22):

“Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”

Believing shows its true colors when we actually do what we profess – we walk the talk. It’s an awesome thing to be challenged by God and live to see the outcome of our blind obedience. But even if we don’t live to see it, we will leave a legacy. Steps of faith always leave footprints stirring up love, stirring up hope, and creating something new, something beautiful.

God highly values our faith in Him, in fact, it seems that every time He beckons us to go out on a limb and we follow through, we grow a little closer to Him. So, why don’t you believe God, and step out in faith today? You’ll be amazed to find His heart in the process!

“I will seek You in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
And step by step, You’ll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days” (Rich Mullins)