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 Message (MSG). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: In Luke 1:8, we learn more about Zechariah and the situation that took him out of his normal rhythm and into an encounter with God. As the story goes, Zechariah was merely doing his routine work while serving as a priest. As was tradition, it came time for one of the priests to enter the Temple to burn incense. To determine which of the priests would service the Temple, they cast lots.
In a cursory search of other cases of casting lots, you will run into Old Testament stories of choosing kings (1 Samuel 10), and decisions about land allocation (Joshua 18). Despite its prevalence in the Old Testament, Luke is not the only book where casting lots is unveiled as common practice. At the polar opposite end of Jesus’ life, we read in Acts 1 that Judas was replaced by Matthias using the casting of lots. In the same way, we learn that Jonah was thrust into the sea after his straw was drawn in the first chapter of the book bearing his name.
Lots may seem like a game of chance used as a false divining rod of truth, but in the book of Proverbs we learn that casting lots is a holy practice blessed by the Lord. Proverbs 16:33 says, “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” So there is no chance involved once Zechariah lines up to pick his straw from the bunch. Not to his shock, but potentially to his later delight, he was chosen.
After four hundred years of silence, on this day, the Holy Spirit chose to speak to Israel.
On this day, Israel was represented by one man who set out to send up a prayer to the Lord. Even though Zechariah entered the Temple by himself, he was not alone inside or out. The Bible tells us that when the hour of incense came, there was a multitude of people outside the Temple for God to hear the prayers that rose up like the smoke of the incense that burned within. The Bible also shows that Zechariah wasn’t alone inside the Temple; the same Temple where almost every square inch was restricted to anyone other than the priests! There, Zechariah witnesses an angel of the Lord standing to the right of the altar where he is praying.
If you are keeping count, there is a large group of people praying outside, Zechariah is burning incense to represent the prayers of countless others, and Zechariah himself is praying while the incense burns. In this one location alone, there could be hundreds of prayers being sent the ears of the Lord. Taking into consideration that this tradition is not confined merely to one space in the Middle East, the bombardment of prayers aimed at Heaven is beyond measure. And still, look closely at what Gabriel says to Zechariah in Verse 13: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.”
Amidst all the spiritual traffic on the superhighway in the sky, God pinpoints one singular supplication and sends an angel to respond directly to its source. On this day, Zechariah had been chosen by God in ways he couldn’t possibly understand because the moment was wrapped in the monotony of everyday life. But in this everyday moment, God sent the short straw to Zechariah to deliver a message that he saw him, heard him, and was with him. It was startling to Zechariah to face a messenger of the Lord in the Holy Place.
Often we fall into rhythms where we expect to be alone and are left only to assume that our prayers are not heard. And to be fair, our name isn’t always chosen out of the hat. But a day is coming where you will be confronted with the reality that God is intimately aware of your presence by making His presence known to you and you alone. When that day happens, recognize that the space where you now stand is Holy Ground. Do as those before you have done: take off your shoes and do not be afraid.
Recalibrate: How can you align your schedule so you find yourself lining up to be chosen by the Lord to worship in His Temple today? When your name is chosen, what will be the prayer you lift to God for Him to answer?
Respond: Pray that the regular routines of your life will be interrupted by the movement of the Spirit, guiding you to the extraordinary thing that you were called to do in the name of the Lord.
Research: A life lived in perpetual regularity has the opportunity to do as all other undisturbed things do over time; collect dust. In 2010, street poet Anis Mojgani delivered a poem before an audience of onlookers who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide at the To Write Love On Her Arms event in Orlando, Florida. A room of people all too familiar with sending up prayers to God in hopes of being seen and heard. In his poem, Anis encourages his listeners to begin their mission of recovery by inspiring them to shake the dust from their lives so they may find the courage to live beyond their fears and doubts. May you find that same resolve today as you study and listen to God’s message to you through the words of Mr. Mojgani.
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.
With your child, take photos of all the everyday things that are part of your life. Your bed, your pillow, the refrigerator, the windows, the floor, your family. There is so much to be thankful for. I have no idea what you and yours may be waiting for. It could be something as lovely as the arrival of a baby (like what Zechariah and Elizabeth were waiting for), or maybe results from a doctor or official permission to stay in the country you have chosen. In the waiting, take care of the little things, the everyday, ordinary things and be thankful for them.
Have you ever been in a race before? You know who is going to be in the race because they all line up together getting ready for the race to begin. Waiting for the race to start seems to take forever. When the signal to go is given all the nervous energy of waiting is spent in racing. Jesus has a race for you to run; it may be in the next five minutes or in fifty years. Zechariah and Elizabeth waited a long time for their race, however, they lined up ready to race every day. I want to be like that. How about you?
Have you ever wanted something so badly you prayed about it? Maybe you’ve prayed for a sick family member, about a test at school, for your friends, among many other things. Sometimes it can feel like your prayers aren’t heard. You can close your eyes and talk to God but without receiving an immediate response, it can seem pointless. One of the first things that the angel told Zechariah was that his prayer had been heard. Imagine an angel telling you that they’ve heard your prayers! Not only that, but that the answer to your prayer (in this case Zechariah’s future son) would help people turn their hearts to Jesus! Interestingly enough, that’s not what Zechariah prayed for. He prayed for a son, but God gave him even more than he asked for.
Sometimes it just flat-out feels like the Heavens are made of concrete. You pray, nothing happens. You plead, and all you get is silence in return. You cry, and your voice only seems to echo back at you. A lot of life experiences seem to have us dealing with a God who teases us with expressions of caring but when we initiate the conversation all we get is the cold shoulder—and silence. C’mon, tell me that’s not true! But our story continues with a wonderful, wonderful statement that is repeated in the Bible numerous times: “Heaven has heard.” Man, we have pleaded forever and it feels like there’ll never be a response, but once in a while the answer thunders: “Heaven has heard.” That’s what Zechariah was told. That’s how humanity is reassured. The pleadings and prayers and appeals of His children are not fracturing off into oblivion in the universe. Even though there may seem to be only ongoing silence, God gets involved in His own good time and assures us, “Heaven has heard.” Keep at it. He is listening!
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.