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 New Living Translation (NLT). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: Luke takes special measures to point out the background of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth as he sets up the premise for the story of the coming of a Holy Baby. Verse 6 says that both parts of the married couple were considered “righteous before God,” and were actively “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” For some reason, in order for the next part to make any sense to the readers of Luke’s Gospel, it must be noted that these were no ordinary people. These were people entirely deserving of something miraculous. Because of their adherence to the Lord’s Way of living, despite the fact that the Holy Spirit had not been present in their lives for generations, they were now reaping the benefits of His mercy and grace.
The Bible does not specify how old Elizabeth was but we know she was beyond her prime years of fertility. Elizabeth spent the better part of her life waiting to have a child—moving through what would be considered the phase of “typical motherhood,” and landing on the other end without a child to call her own, only to discover that she was now due to give birth. To make matters more extreme, Elizabeth is said to have been “barren.” This diagnosis would mean that conception is not an option. It is not often that someone is categorized as barren or infertile without proper proof. This may mean that Elizabeth had not merely moved through her years without a child, but had attempted fruitlessly to change that.
All the while, she never once lost hope, never once lost faith in the God she had never truly experienced in her personal faith journey.
This leads me to wonder about the order of operations here in this story. Was Elizabeth granted the gift of a son because she was faithful? And, if so, was she also gifted with infertility as a result of the same faith? To determine that her child was the result of faith requires that we see the entire story as a timeline examined by God. Gabriel does not arrive during the time of silence, so there is no Divine understanding that her sterility was ordained by God. But we do know that her sudden change of fortune was the direct result of God’s intervention.
Faith is a strange barometer of function when we measure our faith against the results of our prayers. While Luke does point out that Elizabeth’s faith was prevalent in her life, there isn’t any direct link between her faith and the arrival of John unless we connect those dots. The faith serves merely as that—faith. The coming of John presents itself not as the numbers that follow the equal sign of the faithful formula, but as an opportunity for Zechariah and Elizabeth to recognize collectively whom to praise for their wonderfully impossible gift.
For us, the lesson is to have faith. Not for the sake of obtaining the rights to experience a miracle, but for the sake of being conditioned to believe that a miracle can happen. The reality is, a miracle has already happened for us without the condition of faith. John is not the only baby to arrive in this story. The second Child to arrive comes in a way that is almost beyond belief. And His birth marks the start of a miracle designed just for you; regardless of your faith in it and Him.
Recalibrate: How might you build your faith so it endures without the need for answers to prayer so that your foundation is in God alone and not in what God can do?
Respond: Pray that you might find eternal hope in your relationship with Jesus; to remain righteous before God, and walk blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord, knowing that you are truly known despite what you may believe.
Research: Read What to Do with Unanswered Prayer.
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.
While you are waiting for something, the microwave to ding or the traffic light to change, think of all the things you are thankful for. Play this game with your little one. Start thinking up all the silly things you are thankful for like, “I’m thankful that my nose is on my face and not on my feet.” Waiting is a space in time where we can be thankful or not. What will you fill your space in time with today?
Are you waiting for something? Have you prayed that it would come and it hasn’t yet? Waiting can be tough, but we can get good at it. Zechariah and Elizabeth chose to get good at waiting; they lived good lives loving God. Have you ever seen someone throw themselves on the ground because they did not get what they wanted? That is not good waiting. While you are waiting, be like Zechariah and Elizabeth, and choose to do something good. Make a list of all the good things you can do while you wait and get good at doing them.
So let’s talk about who Zechariah and Elizabeth were. Zechariah and Elizabeth were both known as righteous, AKA very good, people. They followed all God’s commandments and spent their time being better every day. I mean, Zechariah was a priest so he was surely committed to God. This could make us think, “Well, if an angel appeared with a message from God, they would believe . . . right?”
As you read through this story, think about the times you’ve doubted. When do you feel one hundred percent sure of something? When are you unsure? How can your faith be more rooted in God?
So, noble Zechariah is in the middle of his duties when he suddenly is overwhelmed because he knows he’s not alone and he knows this is not just another priest who stumbled in the wrong door. Imagine his surprise. It’s an angel. It’s an angel who knows how to speak his language. It’s an angel, and Zechariah isn’t used to seeing one every other day. So, what do you say to an angel when he shows up? Would you be prepared with some eloquent welcome? The Bible’s track record reveals you wouldn’t (none of the characters ever are) but it does tell you what the angel would say to you: “Fear not! Be not afraid.” The angel of Zechariah’s story says the same thing every angel says to a human when the human is stunned by their presence: “Fear not!” That’s the command of Heaven because without it we’d all crawl in a hole. “Fear not!” That means that God’s got something special coming, and you’d do well to pay attention.
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.