the shape of leadership

How the Christmas Story Inspires Us to Lead

What Mary and Joseph teach us about facing our fears

Everybody has certain responses to Christmas. For example, some folks go big or go home. They go all out to give gifts, decorate their houses, and celebrate the season.

Others grin and bear Christmas. Their attitude is, “It will all be over in 30 days. All I’ve got to do is put on a fake smile and bear it.” Still, others cherish the moment — time with family and friends, and the true meaning of the holiday.

But there are two responses to the Christmas story that are particularly relevant for leaders. These responses are often overlooked, but they challenge us to lead with faith and obedience … in the face of impossibility and ridicule.

One response comes from Mary, the other from Joseph. 


Mary Believed in the Face of the Impossible

Luke 1:26-28 (ESV) says, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’”

When the angel speaks to Mary, she’s a bit freaked out (a natural response to an uncommon occurrence). In fact, her response to the angel reveals four emotions that I think most of us can relate to: troubled, confused, fearful, and doubtful (Luke 1:29-34).

Amid these emotions, God gives Mary a promise to believe in: “And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35). While it might seem impossible and improbable, God gives Mary a promise to believe — that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and she’ll give birth to the Son of God.

When is it most difficult for leaders to lead? It’s when fear is the greatest and the price is the highest. But the responses of Mary and Joseph in the Christmas story gives us a model to follow.

But the angel doesn’t stop there. He says, “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren” (Luke 1:36). Elizabeth was a walking miracle. Why? Because she was barren. God basically said to Mary, “In case you think what I just said to you is impossible, your barren cousin Elizabeth is six months pregnant.”

Here's an important truth: God can use someone else’s miracle to give us the faith to believe for His promises in our own lives. That’s what God did for Mary. He used Elizabeth’s miracle to bolster Mary’s faith to believe an uncommon promise from Him. Then, to cap it all off, Gabriel said, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

In this moment, Mary had a choice to make. She could return to her emotions of trouble, fear, confusion, and doubt, or she could believe in the face of the impossible. Mary could rest on logic, or she could lean into faith.

The next verse reveals Mary’s response: “‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). Mary chose faith. She chose to believe in the face of the impossible.

Leaders naturally encounter seasons of trouble, confusion, fear, and doubt. It comes with the territory when you’re trying to move God’s kingdom forward. But in those moments — in the face of the impossible — leaders must choose faith over fear. They must join Mary in saying “Let it be” as they believe God to do the impossible.


Joseph Obeyed in the Face of Ridicule

When Joseph heard that Mary was pregnant, he planned to divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:19). But then an angel appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20, NIV).

Why would Joseph have been afraid to take Mary as his wife? Because even though Joseph knew the baby in Mary’s womb was from the Holy Spirit, nobody else would believe it. Instead, everybody would suspect that Mary had cheated on Joseph.

So, for Joseph to take Mary as his wife would have brought ridicule on him. People would have questioned why Joseph would do such a thing when Mary had clearly broken the law and voided their marriage contract.

How does he respond? After Joseph wakes up from the dream, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Mathew 1:24). Simply put, Joseph chose to obey in the face of ridicule.

Leaders will encounter ridicule in different seasons and from different sources. That’s when we are most tempted to make compromises. But Joseph helps leaders understand that obedience isn’t based on convenience. Obedience isn’t based on an opinion poll or what’s popular in the moment. Instead, obedience is a deliberate choice.


When is it most difficult for leaders to lead? It’s when fear is the greatest and the price is the highest. But the responses of Mary and Joseph in the Christmas story gives us a model to follow. They inspire us to believe when fear says doubt, and to obey when the price is high.

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