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 New Living Translation (NLT). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
“God is good. All the time.” Anyone who has spent time inside of a church is likely familiar with these two tenets. Both are true, both are worthy of faithful repetition, and both sayings are related but are not the same. Somehow, we have equated them to one another, at least in our understanding of spirituality colloquially.
While studying Luke 1: 58, both of these quotes came to mind as I read that a party was thrown for Elizabeth and Zechariah because the Lord was merciful to Elizabeth (note: Scripture says that the Lord was believed to be merciful only to her and not to Zechariah! But we will get back to that on Thursday). When the Lord shows mercy, there is reason to celebrate—and so they did! There are a multitude of reasons why mercy was shown to this family, and picking any one miracle would be momentous enough to raise a prayer and a glass to the sky.
Putting all this aside for a moment, this rationale has the ability to translate across the ages as we still host parties for the mercies we are afforded in life. But how often do we have a party for God’s goodness? One might argue that a church worship service is a celebration of God’s goodness, and I would agree. But we don’t throw parties outside the Sabbath hours to memorialize the times in which God was good. If God was merciful, then He is also good and we should celebrate these traits in tandem. But when mercy isn’t present, goodness becomes less significant and nets fewer invitations to celebrate.
By now you may be wondering why the nitpicking about the relationship between two words. The reason for this microscopic study is to point out something about our humanity as it relates to our spirituality. Often, we are quick to address the blessings in our lives. But we don’t count the ordinary days—the ones where nothing good or bad happens—with the same gusto. Maybe it’s because it might be exhausting to be as effusive on a Monday in early December as when basking in the glory of completing a master’s degree program. But it’s these markers of God’s mercy in our lives that seek to prove that life has changed in an impressive fashion. Every day from that point on will be different because of the achievement we celebrate today. Because God was merciful in the past, we have reason to be reminded of His goodness every single day afterward.
Elizabeth’s future while bright, is going to be fraught with stress as she tries to navigate motherhood without the benefits of more youthful back muscles and a sleep cycle untethered to a young adult’s inner-clock. It will be tough to raise her kid at her advanced age, and there will be times when she will cry out for God to be merciful to her as this baby begins to feel like a burden that she didn’t exactly ask for (at this stage in her life). It is in those similar moments that we each have a choice: to celebrate God’s goodness in difficult times, or beg for mercy in hopes that He pulls us from our plight.
Sometimes, God doesn’t act in mercy.
Even when mercy and goodness don’t arrive in tandem, there is reason to celebrate. I have no clue what some of you are experiencing this holiday season. But God does. The Psalms tells us that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. And it’s true. But in every day that mercy isn’t there waiting for you in the ways that warrant cake and balloons, there is still goodness. Because God is still good. All the time.
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel.
Recalibrate: Where might there be a reason to celebrate God’s goodness in your life today that isn’t getting the attention because of your focus on a lack of mercy in your life? How might focusing on the goodness change your outlook on the mercies you are receiving or about to receive?
Respond: Pray that today, whether it is a holy day (holiday) in your life or just an average Monday, that God will bless you with His goodness.
Research: Read Facing Hardships: Talking Through Anger with God.
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.
Play a game with your child and go hunting for all that is good. Choose a place to put the good things together. I’m fascinated by what the little ones choose to bring. Choose to look for what is good and focus on that. When you have gathered your goodies, celebrate with everything and everyone there. You can have an impromptu party or do your best happy dance. I know heaven celebrates when we are gathered in the good name of Jesus. Get your happy dance on!
You would think we would be talking about baby Jesus just before Christmas but this week we are talking about Baby John, Jesus’ cousin who was born around the same time. The cool thing with these two babies is that their parents were told that they were going to have them by the angel closest to God, Gabriel. How cool is that? Now the angel, Gabriel, also told Zechariah to name the baby John. So that is what Elizabeth and Zechariah did. They listened and they obeyed. Today, listen well. Can you do what you are asked to do? Pray for Jesus to help you listen and do just like Zechariah and Elizabeth did.
Read Luke 1:57-58. The story starts by celebrating the birth of John. John was the promised son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a long time to have a son. We could guess that after Elizabeth hid for five months after finding out she was going to have a son, the whole family and neighborhood found out she was pregnant. As she ran errands around town or visited friends, everyone saw her pregnant. What a joy everyone must’ve felt seeing her! So the day John was born, Luke tells us that neighbors and friends all celebrated. And while maybe some people wanted to credit Zechariah and Elizabeth for the miracle of their pregnancy, they knew it was God who gave them this miracle. So when their neighborhood found out about the babym the credit went straight to God. When we focus on the news it’s easy to only pay attention to the bad things, but God is working through our lives. What are some good things you’ve heard happen to others?
In Judaism there’s this thing called Pidyon Ha’ben, “the redemption of the first born.” It’s the ritual that the Lord first commanded in Exodus 13 but was reiterated in Exodus 22 and 34, Numbers 3, 8, and 18, and Leviticus 12. (With that many references it appears that the Lord was serious about it.) A family was to “rent back” the firstborn son from the Lord by paying five silver shekels to the priest and enacting certain prayers. But our story for this week will not include that ritual. Zechariah knew he was going to have a son (not a daughter), his first, but he would never go to the temple to rent the boy back from God because his son would be born from the lineage of the Levites. Levites could not “rent back” a child because God had a claim on that boy for life. Others in Israel would count 30 days from the birth of their first son but Zechariah probably didn’t at all. After all, what was the point? His son was going to be God’s possession for the duration.
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.