Series: Christmas Presence
Message: Planning the Presence
Preacher: Jenniffer Ogden
Reflection: J. Murdock
Live Wonder: Zan Long
Live Adventure: Zan Long
Live Beyond: Vanessa Alarcon
Live Purpose: Don Pate
Editor: Becky De Oliveira
Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Luke 1:6-25 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: In order to fully grasp Luke’s narrative in his Gospel beginning in Verse 6, you first need to reckon with the fact that this book is built upon the premise that the Jews believed the Holy Spirit hadn’t truly been active in Israel for nearly 400 years! Keeping with the traditions of the culture in that time, 400 years signifies a stretch of generations rather than exact calendar years. Depending on your interpretation, a generation is either 40 or 100 years. This means the Holy Spirit was non-existent as a presence in Israel for 4-10 generations. Now, suddenly, the Spirit emerges and begins to shake the foundations of life that an entire culture had grown accustomed to.
In attempting to comprehend just how this would feel in our current society, I was drawn to the Christmas poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” and the set-up the poet uses to build suspense for the arrival of Saint Nicholas. Without traveling too far into the Santa story, there is something similar about the preparation of the family in the poem and the people of Israel before Luke’s story begins.
The poem opens on a snowy scene inside a warm and cozy home full of family members tucked into their beds on the night before Christmas Day breaks. We learn the house is silent, as nothing and no one is awake. The scene is described as a setting of perpetual preparation for the coming morning as we witness the trappings of an expectant family awaiting the arrival of something good. Their hope takes the form of empty stockings hung on the mantle, which they believe will be filled in the light of day. Until then, they dream of gifts to come and of all the delight they will bring.
The poem contains fifty-six lines in its original form. The story above encapsulates the first six lines alone. But the gifts that are imagined in the dreams of the family will not be delivered for another forty-four lines. The rest of the poem is dedicated to revealing in painstaking detail every movement of the activity of the long-awaited guest. All the preparatory measures and foundational planning were paying off as the faith of those who had waited. It’s not hard to see how this is similar to the story recounted in the book of Luke. The Holy one (saint) had finally returned as promised!
There is something to be said about waiting.
Sometimes it is the wait that causes our senses to be heightened and our attention to focus. Zechariah found himself standing before an angel of the Lord, and though he was troubled, his faithfulness allowed for him to take in the intricate details of the angel’s promise to bring him a long-awaited gift he had prayed for in silence for nearly a lifetime.
Recalibrate: How might you incorporate the idea of silence into your spiritual disciplines this holiday season as you prepare to connect to the Christmas Presence?
Respond: Pray today for the courage to continue to remain faithful despite all indications that your prayers have not yet been answered.
Remember: “Then the angel said, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand beside God Himself. He has sent me to announce to you this good news’” (Luke 1:9, ICB).
J. Murdock is associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado, where he focuses on youth and young adult ministry.
When our granddaughter Zoe wants something really badly and is about to have a meltdown, her momma says, “Zoe, breathe.” The first time I heard her say this, I thought, “Yeah, right, like that is going to happen.” But to my surprise, this little girl stopped wailing and started doing deep breathing. I am learning so much from my child and hers. At the beginning of one of the busiest seasons of the year, let’s work on our waiting skills. Waiting is tough, especially if, like me, you just can’t wait—you have to know the end of the story or make the purchase or enjoy the experience right now. Let’s choose to wait well in our everyday lives. Find the calm place where you are and show your little ones how to do the same.
Have you ever wanted something and had to wait a long time for it? Waiting is tough. The text this week tells of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They had been waiting to have a child for so long, and finally the angel Gabriel came to tell them they would be parents very soon. Can you imagine how they would have felt? How do you feel when you find out what you are waiting for is coming very soon? Draw an emoji of what your face would look like when you got the good news!
I don’t know where you live, but if you have snow during the winter then you’ve heard of these magic words: snow day. When there is a snow day that means no school—so of course if the TV announced your school was closed, that was the best news ever. So the mornings we suspected we didn’t have school, my sisters and I would wake up earlier than usual and turn on the TV. I can remember one of those days we were so excited that there was school, we couldn’t hold it in anymore and we woke up our parents very early to announce “We don’t have school today!” When you are excited to share some good news it seems to almost burst out of you.
What we will be talking about this week is the most special announcement of all—the birth of Jesus. Read through Luke 1:13-17. Do you think the angel was excited to share the news of the birth of John?
The “Christmas story” starts with an old man just doing his job. Zechariah is in the temple, going about the ritual as he had been taught since he was a young man preparing to be an officiating priest. The scene begins with him nearing the end of his active service and (unlike some of the other priests in a system that Jesus called “a den of thieves”) he was a good, sincere man. It feels like he’s done the best he could but no effort on his part has cleaned up the corruption of the temple or brought about the introduction to the promised Messiah. It has not even left him a son to fill his sandals after he’s gone. Nothing about Zechariah makes him stand out as a man whose name will be known to the end of time, but that didn’t stop Heaven from noticing him. And that’s how the story starts—a sincere old man whose life has mostly been a disappointment, and he has no idea what’s coming. Heaven has noticed and the world is going to change!
Zan Long is GRC director for faith development for ages 0-17. She lives in Sydney, Australia, and serves at her local church in nearby Kellyville.
Vanessa Alarcon is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on addiction treatment in Denver, Colorado. She also serves as the Faith Engagement Pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado.
Don Pate is “retired” in Tennessee after decades of teaching and pastoring but is still active in speaking and creating for the Kingdom.