The season of Advent has begun. As we prepare to celebrate the Messiah’s birth, Christians will once again return to some of the most familiar stories and characters in the Bible. While several of these characters are regular participants in annual Christmas plays and nativity displays, their appearance in the Bible is surprisingly brief.
That’s because God called each of them to serve a specific purpose in His mission to save the world. After they had fulfilled that purpose, their inclusion in the Bible’s story was complete. Only God knows the other ways they served Him that Scripture doesn’t mention.
Still, their stories – albeit brief – are instructive for Christians today. After all, God still calls people to serve Him in specific ways. Perhaps God is calling you to serve as a pastor, missionary, Sunday School teacher, or in one of thousands of other ways. In this post, I want to examine God’s callings on each of the Christmas characters and how they responded. At the end of this post, we’ll identify five common characteristics in each of these Christmas callings and how those characteristics show up when God calls us to serve Him as well.
Zechariah’s Calling (Luke 1:5-25; 57-80)
Luke describes Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth as “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). This godly couple was advanced in years, but they had no children because Elizabeth was barren. While Zechariah was serving as a priest in the temple, an angel named Gabriel appeared to him. He announced that God had heard Zechariah’s prayer and Elizabeth would have a son who was to be named John. Zechariah could not understand how this could be since he and Elizabeth were both advanced in years. Because of his unbelief, the angel announced that Zechariah would not speak until all these things had taken place. After John was born, Zechariah wrote his son’s name on a tablet, and immediately his tongue was loosened, and he began to praise the Lord.
While God’s primary calling came later in Zechariah’s life, it was unmistakable. Zechariah’s primary purpose was to be the father of John the Baptist. As the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus would later declare that there was no one born of woman greater than Zechariah’s son. While Zechariah was hesitant at first, God used him and Elizabeth to set the stage for His plan to save the world.
Mary’s Calling (Luke 1:26-38)
Several months after Gabriel’s encounter with Zechariah, God sent him to visit a young virgin named Mary. He announced that she would conceive and bear a son who was to be named Jesus. As Gabriel explained, this wouldn’t be just any child, but He would be God in human flesh. After a brief question for clarification, the angel described how this miracle would take place. Mary then accepted her calling from the Lord: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
In this encounter, Mary discovered that her primary purpose was to become the mother of the Messiah, forever changing her life’s plans in an instant. While she may not have understood all that her calling would include, she willingly accepted her assignment from the Lord.
Joseph’s Calling (Matthew 1:18-25)
Although Mary was a virgin, she was betrothed to be married to a righteous man named Joseph. When he found out that she was pregnant, he assumed that she had been unfaithful, so he resolved to divorce her quietly. As he considered his next steps, he also received an angelic visit – this time in a dream. The angel explained that Mary had not been unfaithful, but the child conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Joseph was told to take Mary as His wife. When he woke up, he did as the angel commanded.
Joseph learned that his primary purpose was to serve as the adoptive earthly father of the son of God. Unlike Zechariah and Mary, we have no biblical record of hesitation on his part to fulfill his calling. When God called him, Joseph responded in obedience.
The Calling of the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)
On the night of Jesus’ birth, Luke mentions that some shepherds were in a nearby field. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and declared that the Savior had been born. The angel explained that the shepherds would search and find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. The shepherds decided to go and see what had happened, and they found the baby lying in a manger – just as the angel had described. The shepherds soon returned to the field, glorifying the Lord for all they had heard and seen.
The shepherds’ calling in the Christmas story was quite brief. In fact, it was just one night. But what a night it was! They were called to be eyewitnesses to the miraculous arrival of the Messiah. While Luke doesn’t say so, I’d imagine they were the first New Testament evangelists, joyfully sharing the good news of the Messiah’s birth with others.
The Calling of the Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-12)
After Jesus was born, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem to worship Him when they saw his star rise in the sky. After inquiring about Jesus’ location, the wise men found the child in Bethlehem. They rejoiced and worshipped the Lord, offering expensive gifts that would likely be used for the family’s subsequent escape to Egypt. After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they returned to their own country.
While we don’t know exactly how long they traveled or how many made the trip, we know God had a purpose in showing the wise men the star. He called them to come and worship the king. This episode is the only instance in which Scripture does not mention an angel making a supernatural announcement. Still, these wise men somehow sensed that God was calling them to worship and provide some valuable gifts, and they were willing to be obedient to that assignment.
5 Common Characteristics
While these experiences are unique in certain ways, there are five common characteristics in these Christmas callings. These characteristics are often present when God calls us to serve Him in new ways as well.
In four of the five examples, an angel appeared to make an announcement. In the case of the wise men, a star appeared in the sky. In all five examples, the person(s) knew it was God who had revealed Himself to them.
While the Lord may not audibly speak to you or make a supernatural appearance, He still reveals Himself to His people today – primarily through Bible reading and prayer. In most of the Christmas callings, the individual was described as a righteous person. They were actively cultivating a life that was blameless before the Lord – walking in obedience to His commandments and statutes. Similarly, it’s much easier to hear from the Lord when you are regularly communing with Him and living a life that is pleasing to Him. When He has a job for you to do, you’ll recognize His voice through His Word and prayer.
In each example, the Lord outlined a specific assignment that He wanted the individual to complete. Zechariah was to be the father of John the Baptist. Mary and Joseph were to be the parents of Jesus. The shepherds and wise men were to become eyewitnesses of the Messiah’s birth.
Just as God had an assignment for each character in the Christmas story, He has called you to serve Him as well. Perhaps He is calling you to serve as a Pastor or a Missionary. Maybe He is stirring your heart to serve as a Youth Pastor or Worship Leader. Perhaps He’s calling you to teach a Sunday School class or start a non-profit organization to address some pressing need. While I don’t know what specific assignment He has for you, I’m confident that He has a job for you to do. If you don’t know what it is, get in His Word and ask Him in prayer. Be patient, and He will make His assignment known soon enough.
In the case of Zechariah and Mary, there was at least some initial hesitation about their respective assignments. Zechariah could not believe that he could become a father in his old age. Mary could not understand how she was to become pregnant while she was still a virgin. While Zechariah had to deal with the consequences of his unbelief, the angel graciously provided Mary with a further explanation without further consequences.
When God calls you to a specific assignment, it can be scary. When I first sensed that God was calling me to serve in pastoral ministry, I was terrified. I gave the Lord what I thought were several valid reasons why the assignment wasn’t for me. However, the Lord’s unmistakable call eventually became louder than my fears.
If you sense that God is calling you to serve Him in ways that are outside your comfort zone, you’re in good company. In addition to these Christmas callings, there are many other biblical examples of when folks experienced a season of hesitation to follow God’s call on their lives. However, don’t allow your fears to hinder your obedience. If God calls you to a specific ministry assignment, He will help you to fulfill it.
In each of these Christmas callings, the person eventually responded in obedience to their assignment. They understood that God had the right and authority to overrule their plans. They also understood that God was incredibly gracious in including them in His redemption story. What an incredible privilege to be used by the Lord!
As God calls you to serve Him, be obedient. Accept His call on your life – fears and all. If God is calling you to ministry leadership, be obedient. If God is calling you to start a Bible study group in your workplace, be obedient. If God is calling you to take the gospel to the nations, be obedient. While obediently serving the Lord is not always easy or safe, it is always pleasing to Him.
In each of these Christmas callings, there were multiple instances of spontaneous worship. As soon as Zechariah wrote the words, “His name is John” on the tablet, he burst out in praise! When Mary visited Elizabeth during their pregnancies, she offered a song of praise to the Lord. After the shepherds saw the baby in the manger, they returned to their fields, praising God for what they had experienced. When the wise men visited Jesus and His parents, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
When God calls you to serve Him in some way, your obedience is itself an act of worship. However, you will often experience great joy as you witness God do great things in your life and the lives of your fellow believers. And this most certainly will lead you to praise Him!
What a tremendous blessing it is to serve the Lord! To know that you are fulfilling God’s purpose and calling on your life. To see Him use your humble acts of service to make an impact in the lives of others. To God be the glory!
What is God’s Calling on Your Life?
The bad news is that we live in a day when church leaders regularly grieve that 20% of the church does 80% of the work. We live in a day when there is an increasing shortage of pastors, especially in smaller churches. We live in a day when many Christians come to the end of their lives filled with regret because they feel they have missed God’s calling and purpose for their lives.
The good news is that there is a solution to these unfortunate realities. And that solution involves you.
Just as God had a purpose for each of these Christmas callings, He has a purpose for you. If you don’t know what that purpose is, spend some time in God’s Word and prayer, asking the Lord to help you discover God’s calling on your life. He may not provide the answer right away, but the answer will come if you are patient and persistent. When it does, give God the glory and get to work!
The details of your calling will likely change from time to time, but what won’t change is that as long as you draw breath, God has work for you to do!