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 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: According to a study from the Mayo Clinic, eleven million Americans each year are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as the seasons change from fall to winter. This time of year, depression can affect a person’s mood and energy levels. SAD is more than merely the “winter blues” and can sometimes be severe enough to cause feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt. If left untreated, SAD can lead to frequent thoughts of death or suicide. While the specific causes of the disorder are unknown, some factors that may induce SAD include shifts in circadian rhythm and levels of serotonin and melatonin. These are conditions that can be adjusted over time, but when levels are low sufferers feel weighed down.
In Luke 1:35, Gabriel gives Mary an overview of what conditions she is to expect as she moves into her pregnancy. Under this prescription from God, Mary can expect to experience elevated levels of the Holy Spirit, feelings of immense power from the Most High, and an overshadowing of self by the Lord. With SAD, people are overcome with feelings of darkness and depression. Mary, in contrast, was about to embark on a journey where God’s Spirit would literally overtake her in order to give her the ability to host the Holy One.
How we operate is determined by factors both internal and external. Adjusting the amount of light and dark we let in can be paramount in deciding how our daily walk through this world will look and feel. While I am not prescribing the Holy Spirit as the only remedy for depression (proper diagnosis and professional treatment should always be considered when planning for the protection of your mental health), there is something to be said for balancing influences in our lives. Mary is visited by an angel who alerts her to the fact that God is knocking on the door of her heart, mind, soul, and womb in order to fill her with holiness that will change her entire life for the better. While she was the only candidate for this clinical trial, she is not alone in being visited by God in order to do something miraculous and life changing. Each of us can be used by God to do something powerful if only we allow ourselves to be overshadowed by God.
Recalibrate: How are you feeling in this season of life? Where is your body in rhythm internally and how might the seasons be affecting how you will feel in the coming months? What can you do physically, emotionally, and spiritually to ensure that you don’t fall victim to SAD and open yourself up to the influence of the Spirit instead?
Respond: Pray that the shadow of the Lord may come over you in whatever state of mind you find yourself this morning. In that place, guarded by God, pray for the strength to do all that God calls you to regardless of how you might feel in the moment.
Research: Read the Mayo Clinic’s Overview of Seasons Affective Disorder to get a clearer picture of the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of this disease as the weather shifts from fall to winter.
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.
Play Step Into the Light with your child. You can play this outside while you go for a walk. The aim is to not step in the shadows. If you are having an inside day, turn the lights off and use a flashlight to light up a pathway for your child to follow around the room. Living in the light is a minute-by-minute life choice in what can be a very dark world. Choose to bring the light—one word at a time, one thought, one step—wherever you are, in Jesus’ name.
Play Shadows outside today. This game only works if the sun is shining, so I hope it is in your part of the world. In your yard, see how far you can move by not walking in the shadows. Go out in the morning and see where you can move around. Draw a map of the area you can walk on. Go out again in the afternoon and do the same thing. Draw a map of where you could move. When Jesus was born, He came to bring light to the world. We get to choose if we live in that light every day. Choose to live love by being kind and doing good for those around you. Just like turning on the light in a dark room, let Jesus’ light shine through you and brighten up the world.
In the world of psychology, there’s a term known as “fight or flight response.” This response is activated when we are scared. So if encountering a bear in the woods, some people might see it and challenge themselves to fight while others might just run away. (I, my friends, would run away.) We all have ways our bodies naturally respond when we get freaked out about something—whether it’s something major like a bear in the woods or something not as big like a quiz you knew about for weeks. We can choose to run or we can choose to face our challenge. We already know that Mary was scared and confused when she met the angel. But once she understood her task, she did not fight or run away. She made a choice to continue serving God. How do you react under big challenges? Do you tend to run away or hide?
A world-renowned rabbi once taught me something about the New Testament. I can’t believe I had never seen it before. Rabbi Leo Abrami said, “You Christians, I love you, but you are stupid. You don’t even know your own Christmas story.” He went on to share that all the famous statements and prayers and songs of Luke 1 and 2 hardly have one original line in them. They are 98.37% just people who were so saturated with their text (the “Old Testament”) that they simply broke out in utterance quoting the passages. That’s so cool! But it left me hanging. If that’s true, then who was Mary quoting when she accepted Gabriel’s offer and said, “Be it unto me according to thy word”? I’ve only come up with one possibility—Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11. And if that’s true, it tells us that Mary’s response to Gabriel’s invitation was that she felt like she was looking into her own grave. She felt like this whole thing was going to kill her. What an astounding view of the moment!
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.