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The first Christmas: God's sovereignty and man's free will

Baby Jesus The Video Bible
Baby Jesus is depicted in a graphic illustration in The Video Bible. |

There is no lack of excitement and movement surrounding the first Christmas. It starts with an older childless couple giving birth to a baby, as predicted by the archangel Gabriel who then also predicts that a virgin named Mary will give birth to a baby named Jesus who will be the very Son of God.  

This birth was accompanied by an announcement involving one of the most spectacular divinely engineered appearances in all of the Bible! Thousands of angels appear to a group of shepherds watching their flock in a nearby field and singing, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.” In my opinion, this Bible story embodies a deep spiritual lesson for the millions who would one day follow Jesus!  

This story’s complexity presents a daring challenge to any individual looking for explanations of God’s sovereign actions on the earth versus how He works through the free will of man. In addition to encompassing more players, more drama, and more supernatural events than any other story in the entire Bible, it is also the most complex description of the interaction between God, man, and angels.

On the one hand, it involves the intricate blending of both the sovereign hand of God doing things that no man or woman could accomplish, and on the other hand, involves working with the free will of man to fulfill God’s essential will on the Earth! Scripture plainly teaches us “For we are Gods fellow workers” 1 Corinthians 3:9a (NKJV)

As the story unfolds, the angel Gabriel appears to a priest named Zechariah, telling him that after being childless their whole lives, God is going to give him and his wife Elizabeth a son, whose name will be John.  Zechariah questions the angel and is told that because he doubted, by God’s sovereign hand, he will not be able to speak until the child is born. God sovereignly started the process with the angelic proclamation, and although Zechariah naturally agrees, we need to understand that Zechariah’s will was involved in the fulfillment of this plan. Over the course of several days, Zachariah completes his priestly duties, returns home and Elizabeth conceives.  

Six months later, Gabriel appears, by “God’s sovereign act”, to a virgin named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph telling her that after being “moved upon” by the Holy Spirit, she is going to also have a baby who is to be named Jesus. Mary accepts this most unlikely assignment from the Lord.

Up until now, we have seen God working in a miraculous way with two women, and one man. God now adds another man. Matthew records that soon after hearing Mary was pregnant, knowing that he was not the father of the baby, Joseph considers breaking off the engagement to Mary. However, Joseph receives a prophetic dream from the Lord in which an angel tells him “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20 (NKJV). Joseph accepts this word from the Lord.

A few months later, God’s sovereign hand is revealed again as Joseph and Mary are required to go to Bethlehem to pay their taxes. All four, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph are now actively saying yes to God's calling on their lives. Each one is following God’s sovereignly pre-designed duties related to Jesus’ birth, fulfilling all Old Testament prophecies surrounding the arrival of the Messiah.

But God’s not done yet!  As the author of this whole story, He sends an angelic choir to instruct a few shepherds and a moving bright star in the East to direct some traveling wise men, revealing that in all of this wonderful Christmas story, God and His creation were working together to introduce His only begotten Son to this sinful world!

Is it any wonder that we celebrate Christmas so spectacularly each year? Permit me to ask you if you are allowing God to use you in your world as a part of His sovereign plan. What a wonderful Christmas it would be for God to hear you say, “Here I am, use me!”  

Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is

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