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 Message (MSG). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: So far this week we have focused on the historical timeline for the birth of Jesus and the factors that contributed to His birth occurring in Bethlehem. The story is a straight line and it makes logical sense for it to occur in the way that it did. Because of a political decree, two parents were required to travel to the husband’s hometown in order to follow the specifications of this particular population count, and soon after their arrival “the time had come for her [Mary] to give birth.” Mothers in their third trimester often know approximately when they will go into labor, but without the scheduling of a c-section or a planned induction, the exact date isn’t set in stone and labor can happen any time around the nine-month marker. These things happen when they happen—and it just so happens that this is Jesus’ story. If not inspected closer, Jesus’ birth and that of a kid arriving in the back of a taxi cab in New York City might be considered to have a similar narrative arc.
But this is simply not the case.
Micah 5:2 reads, “But you O Bethlehem, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”
This sudden trip to Bethlehem was not merely a coincidence which caused a baby to be born. Instead, we can see God’s hand moving to orchestrate the birth of a King to a city that had no business hosting a ruler, all in the name of fulfilling a prophecy that had been incoming since the Old Testament.
God’s timing is not always evident to us and often can be seen as inconvenient to our schedules. But when we allow God to orient our steps, we will find ourselves crossing over from the mundane and monotonous and into the abundant life we were designed to live. For Mary and Joseph, their path was merging with prophecy in a way that neither of them may have understood fully at the time. On this day in history, a family who believed they had been called by an emperor to be counted among his empire were actually part of a much bigger narrative. They were being called by a King to be counted as two of the first Christians missionaries among His Kingdom.
Recalibrate: Where do you think God is leading you? How might you go about finding out what God has in store for you in the future? Whether you can see the future or not, how are you working towards putting your trust in God’s plan for you despite the outcome?
Respond: Pray that God will order your steps and bring you to the places where you are most needed for the work of the Gospel.
Research: Read God Has You Right Where He Wants You.
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.
Yesterday, we did some threading. You may have used pasta or Christmas decorations or random stuff around your house. Whatever you used, the thread connected those things together, no matter what they were. Mary and Joseph had a pretty rough deal on their trip to Bethlehem. I can’t say I would have been up for a donkey ride when I was nine months pregnant. No wonder she went into labor! There were all these things that may have seemed random or unfortunate to them, but looking back, we can see how God threaded their experiences so everything pointed to baby Jesus being the Son of God. No matter what your experience, know that when you let God lead, He will thread your life with love no matter where you are. On the back of a donkey, in a stable, or in a palace—let love live in you.
Watch The Story of Christmas (Jesus is Born). Can you imagine going to visit a baby who has been born in a stable? That’s weird, isn’t it? God’s plan for us can take the weirdest things and make them into the most wonderful. This is what love does and this is who God is. Love was born in Bethlehem; His name was Jesus, and the world has never been the same since.
Have you ever seen a movie about Jesus being born in Bethlehem? Every time I’ve seen one, I imagine this field in Bethlehem being so large and massive with perfectly cut grass and shepherds sitting on conveniently placed rocks all next to each other. When I went to Bethlehem when I was in Israel, I visited this place where historians think the shepherds were, and it was a tiny hill with nothing glamorous about it. While I can’t say if that was actually the hill, the scene may be less glamorous than what we imagine. The shepherd role was usually done by someone younger or older because it wasn’t as hard as other jobs, but we don’t know how exactly how young or old these shepherds were. Yet they got to hear the angel speak to them about Jesus where they were! We don’t have to be in a perfect moment or be a certain way to have God speak to us. Where you are now is enough.
We westerners have missed something in “the Christmas story.” We have traditionally made movies and Christmas cards and posters with a bunch of middle-aged men as the “shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping their watch o’er their flocks by night.” That’s historically and culturally problematic. Don’t you remember the I Samuel 16 story? Why wasn’t David there to be evaluated by the prophet in the first place? Because he was a kid, the runt of the litter. He was out there doing the work of women and children. He was tending to the sheep. Who “discovered” the Dead Sea Scrolls? A teen. He was bored and he was throwing rocks at caves. If you travel to Bedouin territories, even today, you’ll still see that it’s mostly women and children who tend to the flocks of sheep. That’s not to say there might not have been some middle-aged men in the scene as well, but it’s more likely it was a bunch of women and children. Put that on your Christmas card!
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.