They Didn’t Have To

   Written by on December 28, 2017 at 12:47 pm

logo-smith-gregWhen I was a kid, money was tight.  I remember how difficult it was for my parents to provide Christmas gifts for their kids.  They knew we wished for things like train sets and bikes, when all they could afford was the clothing that would keep us warm in the winter.  And they knew we were old enough to understand if Christmas was a little lean in difficult times.  But still they were able to scrimp and save and provide for not just our needs but our wants as well.  They wanted to express their love by going above and beyond what was required, even though they didn’t have to.

Being a blessing—even when you don’t have to—this is the call of Christmas.

Mary was a poor girl from a rural family in Palestine.  One day she was taken aback when an angel appeared to her and announced that she had been chosen to bear the Son of God, even though she was a virgin.  She could have turned the angel down, but for her, it was worth everything to have the Holy Spirit bear fruit in her life.  So she said, “Be it unto me as the Lord wills,” even though she didn’t have to.

Joseph was a carpenter with a growing business.  He was respectable in his town, until his fiancée turned up pregnant.  His family would be filled with shame and disgrace if he married her, and he planned to put her away privately.  But an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take her as his wife, for that which was conceived in her was of the Holy Spirit.  God didn’t force him to take the girl under his wing, but he agreed to marry the pregnant girl, even though he didn’t have to.

Caesar Augustus issued a decree that all the Roman world was to be taxed, and that each man must go up to his own hometown in order to register.  They had no knowledge that their baby would be born in Bethlehem, thus fulfilling prophecy.  Joseph was perfectly capable of going alone, but Mary wanted to go with him.  He brought about the prophesied birth by allowing her to go, even though he didn’t have to.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room for them in the inn.  But somebody had compassion on the woman in labor.  Nobody twisted their arm or required them to offer a place for the night.  Even so, they led Mary and Joseph to a cave that was being used as a barn, and there they provided shelter for the Christ Child, even though they didn’t have to.

In the fields there were shepherds watching their flocks by night.  Suddenly brilliance flashed all around them, and an angel from the Lord appeared to them, announcing Jesus’ birth.  Now, the shepherds had a lot of responsibility there with the sheep, and they could have stayed with them there on the hillside.  But they wanted to see the newborn king, and they went to worship him, even though they didn’t have to.

Far away in Persia, wise men saw the star which heralded the kingly birth.  Their sages told about a great one which would be born to be king of the Jews.  It was such a great distance for them to travel—history would never have known any different if they had remained at home.  But they came and brought their gifts—even though they didn’t have to.

Oh, and one more.  Enmeshed in the glory of five hundred billion galaxies, the Eternal Christ looked with pity on the dustball called Earth.  From the lofty heights of the celestial throne, surrounded by concentric circles of rainbow upon rainbow, the Supreme Being of the Universe made a decision of grace.  There were no ultimate requirements that he give up his glory and bless us with the Divine presence on Earth.  No heavenly statute dictated that God should become flesh.  And yet limitless Christ became finite man as Mary’s travail resulted in the birth of a baby, called Jesus.  He came to Earth to walk among us, teach us, die because of us and arise for us—even though he didn’t have to.

God did it all—even though he didn’t have to.  There was no reason why God should consider humanity to be worthwhile enough to save.  And yet while we were unlovable, God loved us.  When we did nothing to deserve it, God sent us a Savior.  God loved the world so much that his only Son he gave—even though he didn’t have to.

We who call ourselves by His name must continue the story—suddenly, we have to.  We take up the work of the wise men, who brought their gifts.  In the same way we share the spiritual gifts that God has given us with all those who are in need of a touch from God.  We share the richness of the treasure that we have in Christ, and in so doing, we provide a way for them to be sustained through the dangerous desert journeys of their lives.

Suddenly, we have to continue the work of the shepherds who went from the manger back to their lives.  They told the story of the child who had been born to them—because suddenly they had to!  Suddenly there was no way they could contain themselves, because they had been so blessed.  Their experience with God leaked over into their relationships with their neighbors, and suddenly they had to love!  Remaining the same was no longer an option, because they had been changed by the love of God.

Suddenly, we have to continue the work of people like the one who led the refugee parents to a safe shelter to have their baby.  The love of God obligates us to live out our faith by welcoming the stranger and showing hospitality to those in need.

Suddenly, we have to continue the work of Joseph, who thought his reputation less important than his love.  Like Joseph, we are to love those whom God has called us to love, no matter what the personal cost may be to ourselves.  This is the work of Christmas.  Suddenly we have to.

Suddenly we have to continue the work of Mary.  Romans 8:29 calls Jesus the “firstborn of a large family.”  We are his younger brothers and sisters, but we can also be like his mother.  We can be like Mary when we, out of our own desire for purity, allow ourselves to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit’s goals for our lives.  When the Holy Spirit plants seeds in our hearts, giving us dreams and hopes and visions, we need to be like Mary, and nurture them in our spirit’s womb.  We need to be open to whatever God plants within us, so that God might bring about great things in the lives of God’s people.  We do this, not because we feel forced, but because suddenly we have to, if we are to truly be happy in our lives.

For us, Christmas is no longer an obligation or a drudgery.  The gifts we give don’t come from a sense of compulsion or duress.  We give—because suddenly we have to—because of the fullness of our joy.  The decorations of the season become then not a vain ornamentation for the holidays, but objects to assist us in our worship.  The tree becomes not just a glittering adornment of the church or home, but a Christmastime reminder of the Light of the World.  Christ came to us—even though he didn’t have to.

© 2017 by Gregory T. Smith.
Reprinted with permission

About Greg Smith

Greg Smith is a Baptist minister who has served churches in Central and Southside Virginia. He lives in Halifax County, VA with his wife and children. To read more of Greg’s writings check out his blog at


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