Series: Christmas Presence
Message: Unwrapping 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 2:1-19 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: In the United States, it is a mandated requirement of the Constitution that a census be taken of the entire nation in order to determine the population in each state. On April 1, 2020, the Census Bureau will begin counting in the remote areas of the state of Alaska and continue until their report is completed in December. So by this time next year, we will have a definitive answer as to roughly how many people there are in the nation, how to fairly represent each state in the House of Representatives, and how to redistrict boundaries for Congress and state legislators.
Similarly, for Caesar Augustus the time had come to take count of his empire (Luke 2). Passing down a decree that “the whole world should be registered” meant that it was time for Mary and Joseph to head from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to be counted in their hometown. Not entirely unlike the US Census, this one was instituted to determine taxation rates for the future. Caesar had plans to make adjustments to his territory, and the only way to ensure that he could spend within his means was to make sure his house was in order.
Seeing as today is ten days before Christmas, you likely have already begun your own census of sorts. Whether you are hosting relatives or traveling to see them, the checklists are in constant rotation for you. Does everyone have a gift under the tree or do you have plans to buy these gifts? How much prep time is needed for the Tofurkey so it doesn’t burn? Where are your kids? Which topics was I warned not to mention in front of the inlaws? How many people can fit on this sofa if we move the cushions? Where are your kids now? Is there enough pie for everyone? What time is our flight? Where the heck are the kids? How much eggnog is too much? How much longer before I get to sleep in my own bed again? Is grandma allergic to walnuts or pecans? Is Walmart still open? Seriously, where are the kids?!
With a few days left before the holiday arrives, take some time today to take a census not only your house, but your spiritual temple. In the past ten years, how has your relationship changed with God? How has your prayer life developed? Where might you want to draw new lines in your spiritual habits in order to make room for representation in your time with God? How many other things are cluttering your mind and taking you away from the things that keep you focused on who you are in the eyes of God? How are you holding up in your faith and how might you build a new foundation to stand on for the next ten years?
Hopefully, by the time you find whatever or whoever it is you are looking for in this new year, you will know better who you are and what you have been called to do in this Kingdom where you are not only counted but known by the God who wants to spend each day with you.
Recalibrate: What is something you have felt called to do for God but never felt as though you had the time, talent, space, energy, or way to make happen? How might you go about bringing that “back burner” ministry forward in the new year?
Respond: Pray that God will look over your spiritual census report and guide you to answering His call for your life this year and the next.
Research: Read Five Steps to Keep God’s Peace During a Busy Holiday.
Remember: “But the angel reassured them, saying, ‘Do not be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere!’” (Luke 2:10, ICB).
J. Murdock is associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado, where he focuses on youth and young adult ministry.
Ask your child to gather together all their favorite things. Does the much-loved teddy need a bath? Does dolly have some clothes somewhere that she can put on? Is there a place for all these much-loved toys? In this season leading up to Christmas, know that there is a place for you to be whole and made new. It is in the heart of Jesus. Rest in love; enjoy the season.
This week’s text comes from Luke 2 and is called ‘The Birth of Jesus.” Watch When God Was Born. Can you imagine Joseph pushing Mary all the way to Bethlehem in a wheelbarrow? Mary and Joseph had to go somewhere that was not comfortable or easy for them. God was watching over them the whole time as the universe waited for baby Jesus to be born. Know that God loves you and He watches over you, too.
Imagine you needed to know how many people were in a room. Sounds simple enough, right? Simple until people come in and out of that room. So right when you think you know how many people are there, some people leave the room and others enter it. To get the right number, you’d have to tell everyone, “Please stay put and don’t move! Freeze!” So when Caesar Augustus, the emperor, wanted to know how many people were in the entire world, he would have to tell the entire world to freeze. Everyone needed to go to their hometown and be there until the counting was up. Where is your hometown? What is there? What would it be like if you had to stay there for a while?
Octavian sat on his throne in Rome, and the man was totally oblivious. The one who had overcome Cleopatra and Mark Antony rode the crest of world dominance and was proclaimed Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus—“Emperor Caesar, Son of God, Augustus.” That’s what loyal subjects across the globe called him. Most in the widespread Roman realm had their “Son of God,” and they knew who he was—Octavian. The world was at his feet. He could command with a breath and the world bowed and trembled. He could order the disruption of the empire by mandating a census to be taken so they could adequately evaluate appropriate taxation and allocation of imperial resources. He could send a little couple from a backwater village in Galilee to an even smaller village six miles south of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. That town wasn’t even a dot on a Roman map! The emperor had no clue. He did not know he was a pawn in the plans of God. The man should have read Micah 5:2, and then he would have known.
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.