Series: Christmas Presence
Message: Shipping 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 1:26-45 in the New Living Translation (NLT). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: If we were to map out the typical sequence of events for a person starting a family, it would likely go as follows: 1) find a suitable partner, 2) begin courtship, 3) formally date, 4) get engaged, 5) get married, 6) start living together, 7) get a houseplant, 8) get a dog, 9) start intentionally trying to have a baby, 10) get pregnant, 11) have a child, 12) raise the child to be a good upstanding citizen, 13) assist the child as they leave the nest and move away to start the cycle all over again.
In Luke 1:31, Mary and Joseph have successfully completed steps one through four. In this verse Gabriel tells Mary that God has sent him to tell her that she’ll be skipping over steps five through nine. Not yet married, living apart with no poinsettia or puppy to practice with, and with no intimate contact of any kind, Mary is already pregnant with a child not belonging to her fiancé.
I did a little research on parental qualifications. One website tells prospective parents not to bring a child into the world in order to solve a problem. It urges people not to bring children into the world unless they are in a stable relationship. Between the skipped steps in the ordered world of dating and the internet’s guidelines for successful child-rearing, Mary and Joseph were off to a rough start!
Forgetting for a moment that we are all aware of the ending of this story, position yourself in the shoes of Mary and/or Joseph. The stability of their relationship is about to be knocked off balance, their status in the community will be in question, and their future as key players in the greatest story ever told will be determined by how they respond to this visit from an angel. When faced with a choice that will decide the fate of humanity, the sort of stress most of us carry each day pales in comparison!
I note this in part to look closer at the terms and conditions of Gabriel’s conversation with Mary in Verses 30-37. Before we make any big life decisions (like having a child), there is an order of operations that help prepare us for the shift in status or lifestyle. Slowly, we begin to ramp up responsibilities so we can manage our equilibrium as our focus shifts away from ourselves and more toward keeping our new child safe and healthy. We study what it means to be a parent and how we might successfully become more parent-like in our thinking. As we bulk up our experiences, we elevate our resumes to justify our decision to bring another human into the world. But look at Mary and Joseph’s credentials in Luke 1.
Don’t see them? Me neither.
And still, Gabriel leaves them in the assurance that they are ready—despite no formal training and no sense of accomplishment to bolster their confidence. There was nothing they needed in excess of what they already had—a loving relationship and a willingness to follow the Lord was all it took. Because of their faithfulness, we have the story we know so well: a Child was born this Christmas day to uneducated parents who were somehow adequately prepared to raise hope as they raised the Child.
Recalibrate: What is something you feel called to do for the Lord but still feel radically unprepared to do? How might you go about placing your faith in God rather than in your own competency?
Respond: Pray that God will give you all that you need in order to carry out His will.
Research: Read Three Things Your Calling is Not by Ivan Mesa.
Remember: “Gabriel answered, ‘The Spirit of Holiness will fall upon you and almighty God will spread His shadow of power over you in a cloud of glory! This is why the child born to you will be holy, and He will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35, TPT).
J. Murdock is associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado, where he focuses on youth and young adult ministry.
With your little one, choose and wrap a present for someone today. Talk about why you are giving the gift and why you are wrapping it up. Help your child stick the tape on the paper and write on the card. Ask your little one to place the gift somewhere safe until you see the person the gift is for. The gift of Jesus had been planned for a very long time. While the timing may not have been perfect in Mary and Joseph’s eyes, perfection is a whole other thing in God’s eyes. His timing is perfect.
Are you practicing or training for something? When I was your age I wanted to roller skate, so I practiced roller skating every chance I could. Sometimes we get asked to do something we are not ready for, just like Mary was. The angel Gabriel told Mary that God would be with her, and He will be with us too. Are you practicing to be with Jesus in your everyday life? While we may not be ready for all the adventures God has planned for us, He has promised that while we adventure with Him we will never be alone. Think of ways you can practice being with Jesus in your everyday life.
A few years ago I heard a sermon by Pastor Dilys Brooks. She challenged us to stop saying, “Good luck,” to people and instead say, “Good favor!” She shared that wishing good favor to someone was better than saying good luck because of what good favor meant. When the Bible refers to God having favor in us, it means He is expressing delight in us! This is exactly what the angel Gabriel meant as he greeted Mary, calling her a favored woman. Think through your week: have your thoughts and actions brought good favor and delight to others? What would it take for you to bring favor to others?
Last week we saw that Zechariah got that universal affirmation and command that always comes to humans when a real angel of the Lord shows up: “Do not be afraid! Fear not!” We humans always need assurance when it’s a real angel. It’s no casual thing to have Gabriel or one of his cohorts interjected into your day. The scene was so poignant. If it had taken place in the twenty-first century Mary would be just another sweet girl in the neighborhood, minding her own business, musing about her hopes and dreams and just listening to her tunes on the iPod when—BOMBSHELL!—Gabriel changes everything about her life with his offer. And, let’s be honest here—we are not just talking about world history. This action on the part of God was the beginning of the most astounding intervention, allowing Him to redeem His whole creation. If Mary was willing and this thing worked, the whole universe would be, inevitably, set back right again. Go ahead Mary, sweet girl, listen to your tunes. Gabriel’s going to rock your universe in about four seconds. (But, don’t be afraid!)
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.