Teaching Series
Christmas Presence
Thursday—Early Presence

Series: Christmas Presence
Message: Early 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 1:57-66 in the New International Version (NIV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.

Reflect: A man decides he wants to become a monk, so he joins a monastery and takes a vow of silence. As stipulated by the elders at the monastery, he’s allowed to say two words every seven years. After the first seven years, the elders bring him in and ask for his two words. 

“Cold floors,” he says. They nod and send him away. 

Seven years pass. They bring him back in and ask for his two words.  He clears his throat and says, “Bad food.” They nod and send him away. 

Seven more years pass. They bring him in for his two words. “I quit,” he says. 

“That’s not surprising,” the elders say. “You've done nothing but complain since you got here.”

If you were to lose your ability to speak (or decided to take a vow of silence) and were suddenly unafflicted by your muteness, what would you say first?

In Luke 1:65, we learn what Zechariah did when he was loosed from his nine-month vocal hiatus. Not since the moment right before he stepped into the Temple was Zechariah able to express himself in the way he had grown accustomed to in his long life on this earth. He had been unable to explain to his wife the full range of emotions he experienced with Gabriel as he transmitted to her that their prayers had been answered by the Lord and that they would soon have a child. Assuredly, there would be some complicated nuance to the story that would need to be clarified as he passed along God’s message to Elizabeth that might easily be summed up in a word or two. Now, Zechariah has to signal to his wife that she is pregnant (tough charades card to draw) while also justifying why he has to sign his message instead of saying it. Imagine for a moment that you get all of that out and your partner says in response, “Really?” And you have nothing but the use of your limbs, eyebrows, and eyelids to come back at her with your own “really” without completely losing your mind!

Unlike the monk in the joke above, Zechariah doesn’t first explain himself to the room of observers or tell his wife who just suffered through immeasurable pain in labor that he loves her and is so proud of her. Any of these responses would be completely understandable to those of us looking in on his plight from afar!

Instead, Zechariah chooses to praise the Lord.

Surely there must have been plenty of cold floors and bad food to speak of. But even after his mouth was seized by God and held captive for the entirety of his son’s gestation, Zechariah doesn’t curse God’s name but blesses it.

For Zechariah, who you may need to recall was described as righteous before God and walked blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord, his first words came easily and without hesitation. This praise came not in spite of his condition, but despite his condition as he braved his way through it. Zechariah knew that he had received a blessing from God in the shape of a baby boy and a clamped jaw. 

If it were me, I’m afraid I would have spent a few nights cooking up my first line once my mouth was wrenched open again. Once my freedom of speech was reinstated, I would have a few choice words to exclaim as I gave everyone in the room (and above it) a piece of my mind. Zechariah, a far better man than me, chose to stick to a spiritual order of operations that was in line with his soul rather than his mind. His rubric for holy speech is given to us today as a blueprint for how we should operate in the good times and the bad. The first step is simple, easily repeatable in your life, and can be summed up in only two words: Praise God. 

Step Two is more difficult in practice, but is potentially as easy as Step One if you manage to fulfill the requirements of Step One: don’t betray Step One. As for Step Three—more on that next week . . . 

Recalibrate: How might you prepare for the times when your faith will be challenged by adversity so you can respond the way Zechariah did? How can you practice now so you know just what to do when calamity strikes?

Respond: Pray that God may direct not only your steps today but that your tongue be guided by the Lord to speak blessings in all things.

Research: Read Take a Break from the Chaos.

Remember: “All who heard this news were astonished and wondered, “If a miracle brought His birth, what on earth will this child become? Clearly, God’s presence is upon this child in a powerful way” (Luke 1:66, TPT).

J. Murdock is associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado, where he focuses on youth and young adult ministry.

What are your child’s favorite words? Have they learnt them from you? Yes, of course they have. (Well, maybe not all of them!) Have you found yourself saying things your parents told you? There is this thing we do as humans—we pass on our stuff, and it takes discipline to choose to pass on something different. Let’s pass on the best stuff. The stuff that God has planned for us. If you’re not sure what that is, it is abundant life—loving the planet and the people in it. Tough gig! In Jesus’ name, all things are possible. So get busy speaking this life language all over your children so they hear you and see you praise the name of Jesus in word and action.

Have you ever been disciplined? This is where you have done something you shouldn’t have and you have to learn to do differently. Zechariah was being disciplined by the angel Gabriel. Weird, thinking an old man would need to keep learning! Zechariah did not believe the angel Gabriel when he was about the baby he and his wife would have. The Bible says that Zechariah said, “How do you expect me to believe this?” The angel Gabriel disciplined Zechariah by taking away his words. Today we read that Zechariah gets his words back when Elizabeth names their baby “John.” This name isn’t Zechariah’s name. Everyone is shocked by the choice. So they go to Zechariah to see what he thinks. He knows this is what the angel told them to do, and because he cannot speak Zechariah writes down, “The baby is to be named John.” As soon as he does that, Zechariah gets his voice back and he can speak again after nine months of silence. Imagine that!

The beginning of the story explains how the neighbors and family members were excited to hear that John was born. But when Zechariah gained his voice back, this story left their neighborhood. Luke 1:65 tells us that that through the hill country of Judea, people were talking about what God did for Zechariah! While John was still a baby and had no idea of what was going on, all the kids and adults around him were seeing God do amazing things for his family. What are some good things that God has done for you or your family?

“It’s a boy!” No big surprise to the parents who have had an ultrasound performed. They’ve already painted the room and set things up. They already created the “gender reveal” for Facebook. That makes me wonder if Elizabeth and Zechariah had spruced up the place in blue tones? With the proposition of the angel they had only one thing to say. They had no say in whether the baby was going to be a boy or a girl. They had no say in what the child was going to be named. They had no say in the occupation and destiny of their child. They simply had one thing to say as they faced this strange, unexpected journey of parenthood: “Yes” or “No.”  Everything else was dictated to them, and even though it was all charted out and prophesied I have this feeling that the beginning of this strange, long-delayed journey was still frightening. Thank God for Zechariah and Elizabeth. I wonder if I could have done it?

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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