Teaching Series
Christmas Presence
Thursday—Planning the Presence

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 International Version (NIV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.

Reflect: During my time as a student dean at Meier Hall at Andrews University, I was taught a very valuable lesson about what it means to be a man of integrity. The lesson was simple and easily repeatable: handle your business. These words from the mouth of the legendary Spencer Carter provided a single line for us student deans to utilize in our own lives as we also sought to direct the lives of the men we shepherded in the residence hall. The lesson had multiple uses and could be employed in a pinch when attempting to resolve a dispute about why a resident was receiving a reprimand for staying out past curfew or had to report to the dean’s office for being late too many times in a semester. While these issues were minor in the short term, each conversation provided an opportunity to help groom young men to become accountable in the workplace, in personal relationships, and in their faith. Somehow, our goal was to break through in small matters in order to help the young men develop habits that would serve them in the major ones. 

I wonder who Zechariah had to teach him as he grew up. Something tells me that he had a Spencer Carter in his life that taught him about the importance of handling his business in the little things so when he was faced with a life-altering challenge, he would know just how to operate with dignity and honor. As we look at Chapter 1 of Luke, we learn about what happens to Zechariah moments after his encounter with Gabriel inside the temple. Apparently, Zechariah was overdue to leave his post inside the Holy Place, and the other priests were growing concerned about his whereabouts. Late to return, Zechariah emerged from the Temple unable to speak. He managed to relay to his colleagues that something divine had occurred inside the incense room and the Holy Spirit had returned to Israel. Unable to fully process his interactions out loud, Zechariah was faced with a decision: run home and tell his wife the good news, or stay and finish his shift at work. 

The reality check that Zechariah had just confronted should have been reason enough for him to signal to his associate priest that he needed to take the rest of the afternoon off. The revelation that his encounter with an angel of God left him literally speechless should have been excuse enough for him to be granted early dismissal. But Scripture tells us that Zechariah stuck it out and stayed until the whistle blew for his shift to end that day. Zechariah stayed to handle his business.

We already know the importance of his being chosen for duty that day as we learned earlier in the week about how the casting of lots was seen in this culture. And Zechariah now understood why he  had been selected to take care of the temple. Combined with the reality that this old man was soon to be guidance counselor and father to a child destined to become the spiritual leader of all of Israel, Zechariah almost certainly felt compelled to assess his own situation spiritually before returning home to share the good news with his wife. 

Handling your business isn’t always about hitting all the targets perfectly. The lesson to be learned is in assessing what is and what isn’t your business. For the men in Meier Hall, their job was to use the opportunity provided to them by Andrews University to prepare for the life God has called them to live. Ellen White says that “true education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to humanity. It is the harmonious development of the physical, mental, and spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.” 

For Zechariah, school was in session and he was slated to pick a full course load in spirituality, parenthood, Jesus and the Gospels, blind (and mute) faith, and dedication to service all in the next trimester. The only way through was to handle His business in learning to handle his own.

Recalibrate: What might God be calling you to prepare for in anticipation of the next season of your life? What education can you receive now in order to be better prepared to handle your business when the season changes?

Respond: Pray that God may prepare your heart to be open to His call, that your mind be aware of His presence, and that your soul be capable of managing to keep all three in harmony through it all.

Research: Read Why Accountability Matters.

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 little one make a pattern in the sand or on the sidewalk with chalk. A pattern is something repeated over and over again. Like lifting weights will strengthen a muscle, good patterns of behavior strengthen character. Let’s speak good word patterns into our lives and the hearts of our children over and over and over again.

We have been talking about racing and training a lot this week. Go for a run. Run around your house or the back yard. Notice how one foot goes in front of the other and your arms pump back and forth, pushing your body forward. Notice how your heart pumps and your lungs push the air in and out. You are made to move. What do you do when something gets in your way while you are running? Make an obstacle course so you can jump over, crawl under, or go around things that are in your way. Get good at making a way when things get in the way or go wrong. Pray that God will always lead you in His way and that you will always run to Him.

I have lost count of how many times I’ve lost my voice. Over and over again, I would talk too much at school, cheer too loudly, or sing so much that I would have to stop talking. As someone who enjoys sharing, this is tough. It’s almost like when a teacher tells you that you can’t talk but you want to—it’s not fun at all. When you think about Zechariah coming out of the temple, what do you think he’s feeling? Embarrassed? Frustrated? Nervous? There was a whole crowd, curious as to why he was in the temple for so long. Yet he had to remain silent and speak through writing or hand motions. It can be tough staying honest and faithful through an experience like this, but Zechariah would have a chance to share the good news, eventually.

Can you imagine the scene? The old priest (Zechariah in Luke 1) had to go home because he was blemished by his inability to speak after the angel taught him a lesson. He got back to his little village (history and tradition have called it “Ein Kerem”), and had to gesture to his wife Elizabeth about why he had arrived home early, why he’s not at the temple fulfilling his duties, why he can’t speak and why the two of them should try to have a baby. Can you imagine all of that? It’s a stunning, beautiful story. And put yourself in Elizabeth’s sandals: What about any of this is supposed to be believable? If she’s understanding his fractured message this all seems crazy. But something about Elizabeth is open to God’s crazy plan and that’s all God needs. You have to admire old saints like that!

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.

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