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: Whenever someone began a statement with, “You’re not going to believe this, but . . .” I would always wonder what led to their determination to lead off with an expectation of such disbelief. I don’t wonder very often these days, as it seems like everything that is said needs to be taken with a grain of salt. In a world of false claims and a constant barrage of argumentation between what “he said” and “she said,” there is an unspoken skepticism about everything.
Skepticism is understood to be an attitude of doubt to the authenticity of things we hear or see. In many ways, skepticism can be a healthy approach to information when it is given without supporting facts that can be verified readily. Skepticism is what led me to keep my cool when I received a phone call from the Social Security Administration who informed me that my Social Security number had been suspended because it had been involved in a crime and I needed to confirm my SSN to reactivate it after paying a small fee of $100. Because of my skepticism, I was able to save myself $100 up front and a season of headaches trying to cancel credit cards that were opened in my name after the fact. But what happens when the same skepticism that aided me in protecting my assets grows to doubt more than just the suspect things in my life and begins to isolate me from anything other than my own opinion in the echo chamber to which I retreat to for safety and security?
Skepticism becomes cynicism quickly if we aren’t careful to create an internal checks and balances system. Cynicism is the belief that all people are motivated by self-interest. Cynicism leads to a tunnel vision that can barricade you from hearing opinions different from your own because they don’t match with what you already believe to be true. It has the ability to place you in alliance with the news station you watch because the other news station is comprised of villains, liars, and cheats. Cynicism is no longer an attitude, but a belief that breeds a lifestyle of doubt.
Imagine for a moment that you found yourself in the middle of a field and a voice speaks from the figure of an angel reflecting the Light of the Lord into the darkness. That angel says that a baby has been delivered to the world as the Savior of all humanity. The angel then tells you that God has selected you to visit the baby and his parents, in order to bear witness to the greatest miracle to happen on earth.
The skeptic leaves that place intrigued but may actually take the side quest to Bethlehem to see whether or not the story they heard was true. The cynic likely wouldn’t move a muscle and instead would declare the story “fake news.”
Fortunately for us, the shepherds were neither skeptics nor cynics. According to Luke 2:15, they said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.”
We all have the opportunity to apply logic and reason to everything we hear in order to preserve our sanity in an otherwise confusing world. But before you make a final decision and act in line with how you have predetermined the order of the world to be, reserve judgment when something in your soul stirs. Your mind and heart may already be swayed by the positions you have taken up to this point, but your soul still belongs to the Lord. So keep it open to the will of the Spirit. For if you do, you will find yourself at the start of an unforgettable journey you can’t afford to miss out on.
Recalibrate: Where are you utilizing an attitude of skepticism as a matter of self-preservation? Have you become cynical in any way? How do you feel about that? Is there still room for the Holy Spirit to act in ways that push past your cynicism?
Respond: Pray that God will appear in your life in a way that cannot be denied in order to show you that despite all you may have been taught to the contrary, God still moves amongst His creation in meaningful ways.
Research: Read How to Stop Being Cynical: Eleven Proven Strategies.
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.
Show your little one how to make a circle with their hands so they can see through it. Play What Can You See? You can use a cardboard cylinder if you have one. Go on the hunt for all the things God has made. Look for them and cheer when you find them. Pray with your child that we will always look for and find the wonders of God in our world.
Watch The Story of Christmas (Jesus and the Shepherds). How cool would it be to see the sky full of angels singing? I love that the shepherds went straight away to find baby Jesus and they were so excited by what they had seen and heard that they couldn't stop telling people about it. The text for this week ends by telling us that Mary (Jesus’ mom) treasured all these things in her heart and wondered what they meant. I want to be like the shepherds and Mary—how about you? Let’s treasure all the wonderful things that show us who Jesus is. Let’s share the good news so others can share in the treasure of who Jesus is—the baby born to save the world.
Read Luke 2:16-17. We don’t get the details about how long it took the shepherds to find them, their reactions, what Joseph and Mary said when they saw strangers say God told them they were there. We do know they found each other. And while they couldn’t pull out their phones and take pictures or videos of everything, they did, what they could do to spread the word back in those days was simple: tell someone. They left the stable and spread the Good News. I encourage you to tell someone about how God has been good to you this week! What could you share?
What a miracle. The promised One was unveiled by God. From the shrouding, or the angelic cloud over the plains of southern Judea, the world began to see the miracle. The One who had been eternally swaddled/surrounded/embraced by Divinity on the great mountain of God in Heaven from ages past got diapered by a young girl from Galilee in a dingy animal hut. The most honored One of eternity was unveiled by God in that dank corner of the empire, and He then sent humble shepherds to unveil the Child to the waiting world beyond. As lovely as some Christmas carols are, none of them will ever capture the beauty, the simplicity, the complexity, the majesty of that Bethlehem miracle. But that doesn’t stop the shepherds from trying. That also doesn’t stop His friends from still trying today. Go out, friend, sing “Gloria!” It won’t hurt you!
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.