These small group study notes contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, lessons to learn, and applications. Feel free to print them, copy them, or share them. I only ask that you remember these are are personal study notes and are only meant as a supplement to your own study, not a replacement.
The Characters of Christmas Inductive Bible Study Message
The Characters of Christmas
Intro: Normally when we discuss Christmas we discuss the virgin birth. It was a great miracle. We discuss the prophecies about the Messiah that Jesus fulfilled. These show God’s sovereignty and also give evidence that the Scriptures are true and Jesus was the true Messiah. We discuss the humble birth in the manger and so on. Today though we are going to look at the birth from a different angle. We are going to look at some of the characters that were involved in Jesus’ birth and how they reacted to it. We will look at the characters of Christmas.
Mary – First, we’ll look at Mary. Catholics have basically turned Mary into an idol, worshipping her and praying to her. Because of this Protestants often try to minimize Mary as much as possible. So we sometimes go in the opposite direction. But Mary is special. Out of the billions of women who have lived in this earth God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus. Was favored by God (Luke 1:28,1:30). One thing we see about Mary is that she was favored by God. This same term is used in Ephesians 1:6 for the grace that that God bestows on believers. God favored Mary. He gave her a special grace. Yes, she was a sinner. Yes, she needed salvation. But she had many good qualities that we can learn from.
Meditated (Luke 1:29, Luke 2:19) – One thing I see about Mary throughout the account of Christ’s birth is that she meditated. She was continually pondering and thinking over everything that was happening. A lot of confusing and amazing things were happening in her life and in the world. She didn’t just walk blindly through it without caring about the things God was doing. She could have thought it is too confusing; it is too impossible to understand, might as well not even try! But she didn’t. She kept in mind every detail of what was happening and tried to figure out what meaning God intended. This is an important lesson for us. God doesn’t want us to be content with what we already know. God wants us to be learners, to be thinkers. He has revealed a lot to us in the Bible. But it is sometimes confusing and not very easy to understand. So we have to study it, examine it, and meditate on it. Also when we encounter things in life we should think about what purpose God may have in it and what He wants for us to learn. In this day and age television, video games, and the internet have watered down serious thinking. Don’t water down your minds with the world’s junk. God gave your mind for a reason. Use it to learn more about God.
Was Willing (Luke 1:38) – Read the verse. I am really impressed by Mary’s response here. The angel had just revealed some amazing things to her, things that had never been heard of in the history of the world. It must have been very confusing to Mary and her mind must have been filled with questions. Yet she didn’t argue or ask more questions, but told the angel that she was the servant of God and that she would do whatever God wanted. Also, that time period was a lot more strict. Mary knew that if she got pregnant and wasn’t married she would suffer shame and ridicule from others. In addition, she might lose her fiancé, Joseph. To do what God said meant that would likely become and outcast of society and looked down on and mocked in much the same way that the Pharisees thought of tax-collectors and prostitutes. But Mary didn’t seek for assurances that she could still get a husband or maintain her position in society. She didn’t seek assurances about her future well-being. Rather she simply told the angel that she was willing to be used however God desired. Again this is a great lesson for us. We don’t have to be perfect to be used by God. We don’t have to have a lot of experience or know all the answers. We simply need to be willing. Also, we shouldn’t worry about how society will think of us, what will the consequences be in our job, career, or future. We need to be willing to do whatever God asks of us, whether we understand it completely or not, whether we had other plans or not, and whether or not society appreciates our work or scoffs us. May it be done to us according to God’s will. Be willing to follow the will of God above everything else.
Faith (Luke 1:45) – How do you think most people in the world would respond to what the angel told Mary? They wouldn’t have believed. Abraham, Sarah, and John the Baptist all laughed when God revealed to them that they would have children in their old age (which is still more likely than having a child as a virgin). Read Luke 1:45. Mary didn’t laugh. She didn’t doubt God. She didn’t go and laugh with Elizabeth, telling her the story about how some crazy guy had said she would have a baby though she was a virgin. She believed. She had faith. This is the most important response anyone can have to God’s work. And notice I said “response”. It wasn’t Mary’s work. She didn’t do anything! She didn’t brag that she could become the mother of the Messiah. It was all God’s work. Mary believed it. We studied in John before that the only acceptable thing we can do in God’s sight is to believe. That is the response that we are called to make. So believe God. Believe the Bible. Don’t place your hope in the whims of society. Don’t place your faith in ever-changing science. Place your faith in God, even though you can’t understand all the details.
Rejoiced (Luke 1:46-48) – Read. Even after the angel left Mary didn’t have second thoughts. She didn’t complain that it was too hard for her or society’s criticism was too harsh for her to bear. She didn’t begin to boast that she was chosen by God for this great task. She didn’t take this great news for granted. She rejoiced and she exalted God. This should be our natural response to the good news that God has for us. The story of Christ’s birth is not an old, boring, dusty history lesson (tell briefly that people at Gymboree thought it was that). It’s something to get excited about. It’s the most exciting news the world has ever had. God cares for us and loves us enough to send His very own Son as a baby to save us from sin and hell. This is really great news and it’s the reason we celebrate Christmas. It really is “joy to the world”. So whenever you think of Christ’s birth rejoice and spread this joy to others.
Obedient (Matthew 1:19-25) – Not much is said about Joseph in the gospels, but what is said shows that he was a righteous and obedient person. When Joseph got the news that Mary was pregnant he knew he wasn’t the father and wanted to call off the wedding and separate. But he had a dream from God and was commanded to go on with his plans to marry Mary. If he did that it is natural that people would consider Joseph the father and he would likely face some shame and criticism as some people would assume that he slept with Mary before they got married. Also if Joseph married Mary Jesus, as the firstborn son, would be entitled to Joseph’s estate, though Joseph wasn’t really the father. Joseph may have to give his estate to someone who wasn’t really his son. In history three other Israelites refused to marry a woman for just that reason (Ruth’s closest relative, and Judah’s two oldest sons). The birthright was very important as was the family line and most fathers would want to protect that. However, Joseph put all those consequences aside and simply obeyed. Sometimes obedience comes at a price. But Joseph decided to please God rather than men. We also need to be obedient no matter the cost.
Shepherds Luke 2:8-20
Receptive – The shepherd’s were receptive to the good news. They decided to go immediately and see what had happened. To enter God’s kingdom one has to receive his invitation. It may some obvious that people would receive God’s invitation, but most don’t. Remember the parable of the king’s banquet? The king invites many people and instead of coming they send excuses. Some had bought a new field and wanted to look at it. Another was just married. Another had just bought a pair oxen. In other words their material possessions and worldly relationships were more important to them. The shepherds could have made excuses that it was late and they needed to sleep or that they had to stay and watch the sheep or whatever. But they didn’t. They eagerly went to see the baby Jesus. That is the right response to God’s invitation: eager acceptance. Don’t make excuses for not accepting or following God now. He is far more important than materials or any relationships you have. Follow Him.
Shared with others – Second, the shepherds didn’t just accept the invitation and see Jesus, but they then become God’s messengers and shared the good news with many others (2:17). Again, they could have made excuses. They could have said they were poor and nobody would listen to them. They could have said they needed to get back to work. They could have said that they knew little about this baby and wouldn’t be able to answer questions or explain God’s plan clearly. But they didn’t make any of these excuses. They shared the simple facts that they knew about the child and what they had seen and heard. It wasn’t a complicated gospel message. But it doesn’t have to be. God will use His messengers to get His word out. We know a lot more than the shepherds did. God has revealed to us through Scripture much more of His plan than He did at that time to the shepherds. We also need to be faithful to share it with others. Christmas is a great opportunity for that. A lot of people celebrate it but have almost no idea what it is. So I challenge you to share the gospel with a few people over the next week.
Simeon (Luke 2:21-35)
Looking for the coming of the Messiah (Luke 2:25) – Simeon was a godly man, part of a godly remnant in Israel. Somehow by “chance” he just happened to go to the temple the same day as Jesus was taken there for circumcision! It stands out about him that he was looking for the coming of the Messiah. He knew the promises of God in the Old Testament and he believed them. He had apparently been waiting his whole life to get a glimpse of the Messiah. And God gave it to him. After he saw the Messiah, he was ready to die in peace. He was prepared to die and its sting was gone. We also need to eagerly wait, not as Simeon did for the Messiah’s first-coming, but for the second-coming. How many of you think about and often long for the second-coming? How many of you pray that it will come soon? We shouldn’t be in love with this world, or so busy with worth and day to day things that we don’t look for Christ’s second coming. A belief in Christ’s second coming and hopeful expectation of it will also help your life now to be centered in God’s will.
Conclusion: The story of Christmas is the story of the Son of God coming to the world, the story of Jesus born as a humble baby of a virgin to be the Savior of the world. But God also chose special people to be part of this great event and their reactions to it show how we also need to respond to this great event and to God’s will in our lives. Christmas is not a time for passively remembering an old story. It is a time for rejoicing. It is also a time for action. It’s a time to examine our lives and see if Jesus’ birth has any actual effect in our lives, if it changes how we act. Our entire lives should be transformed because Jesus came into the world. So let’s follow the examples of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and Simeon. Think of one or two areas we have talked about that you might be weak. Decide specific ways you can grow. And put it into action.