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 English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: In a recent podcast, Christian rapper Andy Mineo discussed what attracted him to Christ. In discussing his faith, Andy remarked
“One of the things that’s always attracted me to Jesus, and why I’ve become a Jesus follower, is your Man is always dropping the wild plot twists. The moment you think something’s going this way, Jesus… is like surprise! I’m back! Like out the whole other direction! And you’re like, ‘What? Plot twist!’ The plot twists in the movies are the things that excite you, and Jesus is always doing that.”
Andy’s excitement is understandable to us as people standing outside the biblical narrative and able to assess the whole picture from a perspective that sees beyond the moment right in front of us. It gets more difficult to love the plot twist when it happens in your own life before your eyes. Often the twists in our lives are things like hearing the news that the lump is cancerous and life is on a countdown. The plot twist is found in the words of a partner saying they are leaving the marriage. The plot twist is learning that your identity has been stolen and your savings account wiped out.
But along with the bad examples there are also good ones. Plot twists can take the form of passing a crucial exam you were sure you failed. The twist can come when you are sure the cat who ran away shortly after you moved is gone for good only to have it return six months later out of the blue. In the good times and the bad, plot twists can leave you off balance.
The neighbors and relatives of Zechariah and Elizabeth had spent the past nine months living in a strange place mentally and spiritually. At first, hearing that their friend was pregnant in old age must have been a tough pill to swallow. I know what it sounds like today when someone hears something they can’t believe but don’t want to outright label a lie. They muster up a wild-eyed smile and a high pitched, “Oh wow! That’s so greeaaaat! Wow! Wow . . . ” I wonder what it sounded like in their time, but I would bet it sounded something like that even then. Then, to crank the unbelievability up to eleven, Elizabeth adds that the kid was the result of a message from God through the angel Gabriel whom her husband met inside the Holy Place at the Temple who stifled his speech until the day the baby is born. The baby whom they will be calling John and not Zechariah.
“Wow! That’s amazing Liz! I’m so happy for you! Wow . . .”
Unfortunately, all their fabricated celebrating came to a head when the baby arrived, Zechariah gets his tongue straightened out, and this entire story turns out to be true! We know this, because Luke 1:65 tells us that “fear came on all their neighbors.”
Plot twist—God was playing around with His speech and they were in the presence of the Lord every time they were in the company of their neighbors.
It would scare me too to find out that the “I told you she was lying” moment was never going to come and instead. And this one is just the first baby. The next One—plot twist!
Recalibrate: What plot twist have you experienced that knocked you off your feet and made you question everything you once knew? How can a spiritual plot twist cause you to gain a different picture of God from the one you are accustomed to?
Respond: Pray that God will reveal a new Truth to you that gives clarity in your relationship with Him (just be ready to hear something that twists you in a way you might not be expecting).
Research: Read It’s Not a Setback, It’s a Plot Twist.
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.
Make your child’s favorite meal and eat together. Technology is not invited, only living things at this dinner date. What kind of food did you put together? What went with what to make it your child's favorite meal? Jesus wants to be our favorite that we put with everything. He wants to be with us all the time. What do you want? Jesus hadn’t even been born yet, but for Elizabeth and Zechariah the focus was on their tiny baby boy and who he needed to be in the amazing plan to save the world. As you sit with your little one, enjoy each precious minute. We do not know the plans that God has for us, but we know they are good because that is what God is.
The Words to Remember this week are: “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)!
People said this when Elizabeth and Zechariah named their baby John. They did what the angel Gabriel told them to do and a miracle happened! Zechariah got his words back and everyone was watching, believing that God’s presence was with this family. Presence is a big word for “with.” God was with Zechariah and Elizabeth. The beautiful thing about this time of year is that we are celebrating that Jesus was born to be with us. Even though that was a long time ago, the miracle is that He is still with us through His spirit. All we have to do is say, “Jesus be with me and help me to stay with you.” Jesus is the best place to be.
Have you ever met anyone who seemed to be good at everything? I did—I went to high school with them! This person got good grades on every test, had lots of friends, and really good at sports! One day, we all were learning how to play baseball during P.E. class and on her first try trying to hit a baseball, she got a home run! We all couldn’t believe that with no practice she was able to hit it so well! Was she mysteriously good at everything? Yes. Did it bother me? Sometimes, only because I wished I could be half as good as her. Many other classmates felt this way too. When she wasn’t around, we would talk about how she had something special.
Compared to what John the Baptist would become, my classmate’s talents aren’t as significant. But even though John the Baptist was too young to awe anyone in sports or at school, people were already wondering about this baby boy. So much, that they’re asking themselves, “What will this baby be?” Well, we know what we will become. I would think the town was all hyped or felt a sense of mystery about this family. Maybe they already had some haters. Either way, one thing was for sure—God was with them.
If you know anything about the world in which “the Nativity” story happens, you know that there’s a two-word phrase that’s huge: “Messianic ferment.” The world was ripe and ready for the Messiah. Judaism was in labor pains with anticipation. In that time, there was a growing unease and awareness that something momentous was about to happen. That for which the nation had yearned for hundreds and hundreds of years was just on the horizon; they could all feel it. When you understand that it makes more sense that when something really extraordinary happens (like a very old priest and his wife having their first child!), the natural inclination would be for folks to assume that John was probably the Messiah. He wasn’t. His parents knew he wasn’t. He knew he wasn’t. But they clearly knew that the Messiah was going to come right on his heels, so the boy had something to shout about from the beginning. “Prepare ye the way . . .” Oh, if I had such conviction about the soon-appearing Jesus it might change my life, too, don’t you think?
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.