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 New Living Translation (NLT). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: Imagine for a moment the gravity of the following scene: After a long period of war between opposing countries, the death toll for the Israelites has risen above four thousand. The frontline is thinning, morale has dipped significantly, and all is feared lost. In a strategic combat operation, the order is given to bring forward the ultimate secret weapon; the ark of the covenant. Wielding the mighty fortress into battle, the two princes of the fractured nation cause the troops perk up in premature jubilation at the very sight of God before them! Riding a wave of renewed energy, the troops once again surge into battle believing that their victorious fate had been resuscitated!
Thirty thousand soldiers died that day. Israeli soldiers. Including the two sons of the King. And the ark was captured.
When word gets back to Israel, the king is immediately briefed on the war effort. Upon hearing of the news of the defeat of his army, the death of his only sons, and the loss of the ark, falls from his seat backwards onto a fence and dies. The news winds through the city until it reaches the prince’s home. There his pregnant wife is told of the tragedy of her husband, her father-in-law, her nation, and her God. Overcome with grief, she prematurely gives birth to a son. On the spot, she names the boy, Ichabod. In Hebrew, chabod means honor, glory, reverence, and splendor. The preceding letter i, represents the identity of exile. Meaning this newborn child carries with him the title of his context at birth. God has been exiled. No glory. (1 Samuel 4)
In Luke 2, we learn that Joseph was called back to his hometown of Bethlehem for the census. Being from Bethlehem was not merely a statistic that denoted where his address was; it meant much more. To claim that you were from Bethlehem was to tell people that you were a descendant of David (Bethlehem was also known as the City of David). Now, in marrying his fiancée Mary, he was bringing her home to be counted as betrothed to someone in the family tree of David. This is an incredibly significant point for Mary as it meant a change not only in last name, but in status, culture, and history.
But something else was going on in Bethlehem beyond the census that would forever change that place and those people. Soon, a new name would fall upon everyone, every place, and everything about that time.
Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary, and an inn; forever remembered and glorified for being part of the greatest story ever told because of the glory that came upon all of them. And it was sealed with the announcement of a baby. On the spot, Mary names the boy Jesus. In Hebrew, yeshua means “to deliver and rescue.” The name, while not uncommon in this region at the time, represents the identity of salvation. Meaning this newborn child carries with Him the title of His context at birth: God is with us. Glory to God.
Two babies with two different names that denote two different meanings and contexts. Both are pivotal in tenor and scope for their placement in history, but one elicits poignancy while the other fulfills prophecy.
This Christmas, you are warmly invited to place the name of our Savior into your world to revel in whether you feel as though you are stuck in a time better suited to the name of Ichabod or the name of Yeshua as you recognize that you are called to be counted in the family of Christ.
Recalibrate: What do you think is really in a name? Do you know where your name comes from and what it means? If you were to trace your story back far enough, can you find the line that takes you back to Jesus? How might being reminded that your name is one of the many that are part of Jesus’ family tree change how you see your past, present, and future?
Respond: Pray that Jesus’ name will be on the forefront of your mind in every thought, word, and action in hopes that the same light that shone in Bethlehem will shine through you for His glory.
Research: Read and research one of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs which remind us that You Are Invited to be a Part of God’s Family on Earth.
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.
Today we are going to thread things. You can choose which items would best suit your child. You can thread pasta. Decorate pieces by dipping them in glue and then in glitter. Or, using a long piece of string, thread it through things in your home. Thread your Christmas decorations onto the tree. With your little one, talk about how the thread goes in and out and pulls these things together. Let’s be open to having love pull us together this Christmas.
Watch An Unexpected Christmas. Can you imagine the planning that went on in heaven for God to be born into a family on earth? How amazing to be chosen to be the family Jesus was born into. Mary listened to what the angel told her and did what he said. Imagine what an angel might say to you right now.
Have you ever been so tired all you wanted to do was go to sleep? What would it be like if you went to your typical resting place and there wasn’t anywhere for you to sleep except the floor? One time in college, I put in a request to have extra bed posts removed from my dorm room. Somehow the message was not read correctly and instead they removed my entire bed from my room! You can imagine my surprise when I got to my room and didn’t have a bed. Fortunately, there were still people on site so I was able to solve the problem. But even if there was nothing available in the 600 other rooms in the dorm, I would’ve found a place to sleep.
So Mary and Joseph, having traveled from afar to arrive to Bethlehem, don’t have anywhere to stay so they end up staying in a stable, of all places. And even then, because the stable wasn’t set up for childbirth, the baby was placed in a manger, a feeding trough that held the animals’ food. But all along, while this seemed like bad luck, it was all part of God’s plan for the couple to be in Bethlehem. They were fulfilling God’s promises regarding the birth of the future King!
No one knows all that much about Joseph. One thing we do know is he certainly did his job. He took the very pregnant young woman Mary all the way to Bethlehem and did his best to protect her and her/their Child in very difficult times and circumstances. Now for the bombshell: some in the early church claimed that he was close to 70 years old in this story! We honestly don’t know his age. But we do know that the story would not have been the same if a good, decent, sincere man named Joseph had not been as willing to accept his role in the miracle as Mary was willing to accept hers. I wonder if he didn’t want to wring the innkeeper’s neck? You couldn’t blame him. Thank you, noble Joseph. You did your job well.
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.