Series: Christmas Presence
Message: Early 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 1:57-66 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: In splitting up sections of Scripture the way we have this year, there is a tendency to compartmentalize a story into strange bits and pieces rather than consume the whole chapter in one bite. In doing this, many things can happen that are both good and bad. The negative side effect of breaking the books into parts is that we can sometimes lose the gravity of the point the narrative is driving towards. In most TV scripts, writers break the show into different segments within a singular episode. These segments are known as plots. The main plot of the show is designated as the “A plot” and will often earn the lion’s share of the focus for the week. But most TV shows have multiple characters who exist in different atmospheres within the world of the show. So, to keep the characters in motion, an episode will also follow a separate story or two that may coincide with the A plot, but also may serve as a feeder for future episodes where the B or C plot will eventually become the A plot.
This system gets more difficult in today’s modern age of television where shows are dropped a season at a time on Netflix, but for anyone who is a fan of shows that still release week by week, think of your favorite show and all the entertainment packaged in one single episode you’ve anticipated all week. Now imagine that this week, rather than getting the full 30/45/60-minute episode, you only get access to the nine-minute B plot. And the following week, instead of the full episode, you get the six-minute C plot. And the week after, you finally get the 22-minute A plot from the same episode above. Not as much fun, right? These shows are built to be a fully sealed package that works best in conjunction with the others.
This leads us back to the story as we find it in Luke 1:57. Since we last left off on the B plot of the Lukan narrative (I’ll let Elizabeth finish, but Mary had the best birth of the year) we have traveled away from the Temple where Zechariah met Gabriel, and Elizabeth was blessed with a child despite being barren. With that “previously on The Gospel of Luke” in focus, read this verse again and sit with it.
“Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.”
So often in the Scriptures, we reach sections of chapters dedicated to the genealogy of a family that is spelled out name by name across the ages. So-and-so begat So-and-so, and they had three kids named So-and-so, So-and-so, and So-and-so. This goes on for paragraphs as we break down the lineage of a singular bloodline without batting an eye. And most of us will admit to scanning right past those sections without paying them any attention because they’re just about a family tree and not the true Gospel message we are seeking. But this baby, who will find Himself nestled into the genealogy of Jesus Christ, is not merely a name on a line in the biblical 23andMe readout.
This kid is a miracle baby delivered to a mother deemed medically incapable of child birth and beyond the finish line of motherhood. Don’t simply let the monotony of this sentence structure pass you by today. Elizabeth did the thing she never thought she could by birthing a child the world never thought we would see! God arrived here on earth to deliver the news that would deliver the messenger who later announced the Greatest Gift the world had ever received. This wasn’t the first miracle of the Bible, and it won’t be the last—but this plot is worth noting before we move on any further in the story. A miracle has happened that will give us the hope that miracles can and will happen again.
Recalibrate: What miracle are you still waiting for? How might changing your view on whether miracles are still possible change your expectations?
Respond: Pray that you may be open to the miracles that are happening around you so you can bear personal witness to the plots that God is writing in the world.
Research: Read Do Actual Miracles Still Happen?
Remember: “All who heard this news were astonished and wondered, “If a miracle brought His birth, what on earth will this child become? Clearly, God’s presence is upon this child in a powerful way” (Luke 1:66, 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, look through the photos of their arrival into your world. Talk about how you waited for them, how you planned and prepared so that everything would be ready when they finally arrived. The day that you were in each others arms is one that will never be forgotten. The planning and preparation for the birth of Jesus had been going on forever and finally He was on the way! His cousin John was on the way too, and together they changed the world. This series is all about the Christmas Presence; God with Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth. God with you. With your family, too. God wants nothing more than to hold His family, the world, in His arms and bless us with His abundant love.
We are in the season of Christmas, the time where we celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus. Around the same time, Jesus’ cousin John was born. He was special too, but he was not Jesus. There is only one Jesus, the baby born to save the world. We know John was special too because before he was born, the angel Gabriel told his dad (Zechariah) that he would have a baby. When John grew up, everything he did pointed to Jesus. Look around you, listen to the sounds, and search for anything that points to Jesus.
Do you know what the story behind your name is? Are you named after someone? Does your name start with a certain letter to match your siblings’ names? My previous supervisor’s name was June and, you guessed it, all her sisters were named after other months of the year. Maybe you have no idea why you were given your name. Or maybe you don’t like your name and you’ve given yourself a nickname. My sister, Joanna, has gone by Jo since high school and some people now think it’s her actual name. Now it’s part of her identity and even if she decides to go by a different name, some people will know her as Jo.
Whether you like your name or not, you have a name. And each name has a meaning. If you remember the beginning of the story two weeks ago, the angel instructed Zechariah’s son to be called John. As we study the story for this week, I want you to think about your name. If you don’t know already, look up what it means. Does the meaning connect with you?
Well, it was a sensation all right. No one expects little old ladies like Elizabeth to actually get pregnant and wear maternity clothes! I’m quite sure that the various town wags and gossips took the message like wildfire all the way to the temple: “Can you imagine? John, as old as he is? And his wife? She may have been some looker back in the day but when this baby is born everyone is going to ask her if she’s looking after her grandchild!” But the day came, and by the time Elizabeth started feeling those contractions the community had grown somewhat accustomed to the scandal. Imagine that moment—the little old lady had waited her whole life to feel those contractions and she couldn’t even turn to her own mother for support and advice because her mother had been gone for a long, long time. How scary. How amazing. How miraculous. How surprising is our God?
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.