Teaching Series
Christmas Presence
Friday—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 English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.

Reflect: As a kid I had a really hard time with the word “wait.” It just seemed like such a useless word in my life! I could handle hearing “no” but I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of waiting. Waiting wasn’t a no and it wasn’t a yes; it was a “not right now.” Which meant there was definitely a chance that something would happen, but not when I wanted it to. I think the main reason it bothered me to hear the word wait was because it made me feel like right now didn’t matter. And right now did matter! So why not celebrate the right now by not delaying the gratification that was being promised later? 

On Christmas Eve, my family celebrated the tradition of opening up one gift before going to bed. It was awesome to finally tear open a package that had been sitting under the tree for days! Christmas presents under the tree were the ultimate “wait” catastrophe for me as a kid. But on the night before Christmas, I could finally put my imagination to rest and see what was inside! The problem was that it was never easy to stop at just one present. Once I opened one, I wanted to open them all! My imagination was exhausted from all the dreaming it endured thinking through what could be inside that oddly-shaped box with my name on it and how it might be connected to an item on my wish list. After I finally figured out that box and learned which of my wish list items had been eliminated, my desire to find out more went into overdrive!

After all the work Zechariah puts into comprehending the message Gabriel had delivered, he still had to wait the whole nine months it took for little John to grow inside Elizabeth’s womb. I’ll bet it felt like an eternity. With the pressure to hold on to the faith that Zechariah heard the angel correctly, that this pregnancy wouldn’t miscarry like the other ones may have, and to remain strong in light of the fact that their imagination could have them believing that they weren’t capable enough/young enough/wise enough to raise the child to be all of the things he was determined to be when they were given this gift, the couples’ stress levels may have likely rivaled their impatience. 

One year for Christmas I received the video game Gran Turismo for the PlayStation as the gift I opened on Christmas Eve. I excitedly popped the disc into the console and scrolled through all the different cars I would be able to drive within the game. When I attempted to start a race in one of the fastest cars, a prompt popped up on the screen with the following message: URNOTE

It seemed like gibberish, but the message also came with a restriction that would not allow me to start the race for some reason. At the very start of the game, no matter what race track I chose or which controller I plugged in, the message was always the same: URNOTE. I finally relented and chose a slower car on a less technical track and the game continued without issue. Many races in as my skill level increased, more and more cars became available to me to use in later races. It was only then that I realized what the message was trying to tell me. When I was first starting out, the prompt was my reality check: You Are Not Ready (U R NOT [red] E). And the game was right. 

Fortunately, Zechariah and Elizabeth were wrong. God was with them. And because of His presence, they had never been more ready for anything in their lives.  

Recalibrate: What in your life has you feeling as though URNOTE? How might taking your fears to God help you tackle that apprehension and put you in a better position to get ready for the unexpected before it arrives?

Respond: Pray that your ability to adapt to the call of God comes to you with the same confidence that Zechariah and Elizabeth felt after they realized their promise from God was true. 

Research: Read Surprised by Trials: Preparing for Unexpected Suffering.

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.

Play a game of Ready, Set, Go with your little one. Crouch down in the ready position. Press into the set and then wait for the go. Go! Really go! Take turns in saying “Ready, set, go!” If your child is ready, throw in a trick word instead of “go,” like “french fries” or “crocodiles.” Teach them to listen for the “go” and then to go with everything they have. Let’s get good at listening for God’s “go” and, with all that we have, run the race He has set out for us.

“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). Imagine the angel that stands next to God coming to tell you good news. Something that you have been waiting your whole life for is going to happen. If that should happen to me, I want to be ready to say, “Thank you, Jesus.” Draw a picture of all that you are thankful for and write across the top, “Thank you, Jesus. You are the Good News.”

When was the last time you hid? Maybe you were playing Hide and Seek, or maybe you didn’t want your parents or teacher to see you do something you weren’t supposed to do. When we hide, it’s not usually a good thing. When Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist, the Bible she tells us she hid for five months. That’s from today until April—a very long time! The difference is that she hid in happiness. We don’t exactly know what exactly she did for those months but we do know she was praising God for this blessing. Stay tuned for next week when we talk about another announcement: Christ’s Birth.

Yes, Zechariah had the evidence of an angel confronting him . . . but no one else saw it. (C’mon, if you go around saying that angels visit you and give you instructions, many people will put you away for a while to make sure you’re not a danger to yourself or others.) Then he got home and had to do all this explaining to his wife (while he wasn’t able to speak) and she was supposed to just buy into this miracle?  But she did and we remember the couple to this day because of their faith. I guess that’s what this faith stuff is all about—you choose to put your trust in God and act like you mean it and remain open to Him showing up—and then you prove yourself willing to pay the price when He does. All that “faith” stuff and what do you get? A life beyond your wildest imagination. Not a bad exchange—if you are courageous enough to try.

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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