Good morning, church. I'm excited to speak today and kick off our series. I want to say thank you to Isaac for leading us to the Cross; your leadership is much appreciated. And Isaac, I didn't even notice the stitches you mentioned, thanks to your impressive beard!

I also want to acknowledge the Estrada family. It's always wonderful when new families join us. It can be daunting to move to a new church or city, especially one with around 600 people attending the East and West services. Feeling welcomed and cared for is crucial, so thank you to everyone who helped make the Estradas feel loved and encouraged. Remember, it takes a village, not just the ministry staff, to extend this warmth to newcomers.

A quick note to the middle schoolers: you have your class today, so feel free to head to your class now. Regarding announcements, we don't have many, but remember, it's the Christmas season! We're here every Sunday at 10:00 a.m. throughout December. For those wondering about Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve plans, we're here, as both fall on a Sunday this year.

Parents, your kids are currently practicing Christmas songs in the children's ministry for their performance on December 17th. Do practice with them at home too, to boost their confidence for when they're on stage. It's always a joy to watch them, especially the ones who are a bit less focused!

I'm also thrilled to see Eric Southern back with us. We've been praying for you, brother, and are so happy to have you here.

I'd like to take a moment to share something I've noticed over the past few months. We tend to fluctuate in this, but it's about our service start time. Our service begins at 10:00 a.m., not 10:05 or 10:15. There's a countdown timer starting at 9:55 or 9:56, and we aim to start worship at 10:00. I love arriving early, seeing the sound crew, worship band, and others preparing. It's great to fellowship before the service starts, so I encourage everyone not to arrive late. Let's make it a practice to come on time, or even help with the setup starting at 8:00 a.m., if you can.

Yesterday's men's day was fantastic. Despite the college football conference championships happening, we had a great turnout. I must admit, as a Georgia boy, I'm a bit bitter about some of the results. My team lost, and it seems my prayers for a national championship weren't heard. Now, I'll be rooting for Michigan, where half of my family is from, hoping they win it all this year.

The fellowship, message, and competition were all wonderful yesterday. However, I apologize for the challenging trivia questions. I thought they were common knowledge, but I guess not everyone knows the feet per second velocity of a 30 out 6 bullet!

Now, let's jump into our new series, "The Spirit of Christmas." When we talk about the spirit of Christmas, it's not just about being loving, joyful, and fun. It's about the broader essence of this festive season, reflected in the streets adorned with Christmas lights and songs that capture this spirit.

Somebody asked me this morning if we were singing Christmas songs today. I said yes, there's at least one in there. By the end of December, though, you're probably going to be tired of Christmas music, especially if it's constantly playing at your workplace.

As we delve into the spirit of Christmas, we're not just talking about the festive atmosphere or the music. We're going to explore the first two chapters of Luke, focusing on various characters in the Christmas story. There's Jesus, his parents, John the Baptist, the Shepherds, King Herod, and others. But we'll focus on a character who may seem like a background figure yet plays a crucial role, similar to how Old Man Marley in 'Home Alone' turns out to be the hero who saves the day. This unlikely character, who we might overlook, can have the greatest impact.

Over the next few weeks, we'll talk about the Holy Spirit, who moves and orchestrates events throughout the birth narrative of Jesus Christ, our Savior. We'll see how the Spirit works in the Christmas story and how it can work in our lives. Today's lesson is titled "The Spirit Prepares." What preparations have you started for Christmas? Have you put up your Christmas lights yet? Many people start right after November 1st, and in my family, our house was decorated in the first week of November. My kids have this phrase they use, "leveling up," when they see other houses with more decorations. They want us to enhance our Christmas game.

But let's focus on John the Baptist and how the Spirit was involved in the preparation process of bringing our Savior to Earth. Remember, just because we finish a series on the Spirit doesn't mean we stop thinking about it. The Spirit is the presence of God among us, guiding us if we allow it. As Ryan Weekley shared, because the Spirit is in you, you are never alone, you can become like Christ, and you have power.

We've talked about walking with the Spirit, practicing things like Lectio Divina and the prayer of Examen as a church to connect more with the Spirit. We've asked questions like how could the Holy Spirit power transform your ministry? It's important to continually reflect on these questions, thinking about how they can transform your service to God and others.

Each one of us has our own ministry, be it in our neighborhood, our homes, or elsewhere.

In my life, I have to allow the Spirit to move, especially in making disciples, starting right in my home. I live with two non-Christians, my two little boys, aged seven and six. We're making Christians from the ground up in the Hawkins house, trying to instill values in them. I can't do this alone; I need your support and God's help through the Spirit.

What changes are happening in your life due to your connection with the Spirit? For me, one area I constantly evaluate is clutter. I come from a family of hoarders, but marrying my organized wife has been a blessing. She lets me keep one messy tabletop in the bedroom, which is always littered with receipts, books, pens, and half-drunk water bottles. I try to clean it once a week, usually after a prompt from my wife. She's seen where I came from, so she knows I've made progress. The Spirit is definitely working on my side of the bed!

As we lead by the Spirit, I wanted to preface this as we jump into our lesson. This is to prepare us for the upcoming lessons. Today, we start off in Luke chapter 1, covering the first 25 verses.

Let's pray. Father, thank you for this day, your word, and how the Spirit moves in our lives. Help us to stay in step with your Spirit, to be moved by it. If we're stuck, help us to seek freedom through your Spirit. Let us not cling to old traditions and ways of thinking, but move with your ever-teaching Spirit. We love you. Amen.

So, we jump into Luke chapter 1. From the very beginning, the Spirit is present. Let's read. Luke is an interesting character; he writes more about the Holy Spirit than any other biblical writer outside of Paul. Luke wasn't just a researcher; he was on the journey with Paul, evidenced in the book of Acts. Initially, "they" went here and there, but around Acts 16, it changes to "we." Luke was a doctor on the mission field, a meticulous researcher and historian.

I want to share about Sir William Ramsay, a late 1800s atheist and agnostic from a family of lawyers. He initially believed that the Book of Luke and much of the New Testament were written centuries after they claimed to have happened. This skepticism is still common today. Many wonder how we can trust a book that's 2,000 years old.

Ramsay, a well-educated man from Exeter College and Cambridge, initially followed the Tübingen Theory, which suggested that Acts was a second-century composition. He doubted the reliability of Acts and Luke. However, before fully embracing these beliefs, he conducted his own research in the Middle East. After years of investigating every detail and retracing places mentioned in Luke and Acts, Ramsay's perspective changed.

Luke's authorship in Acts is detailed, mentioning specific locations and geography. He writes about traveling up to Jerusalem or westward, providing a geographical context.

You can only describe directions accurately if you've been to a place. Luke, for instance, could only have detailed geographical directions because he had been there. His research began with skepticism, intending to disprove the biblical accounts. However, he concluded that not only was Luke a great historian, but also one of the greatest of all time. Sir William Ramsay, initially skeptical, found Luke to be extraordinarily trustworthy.

Luke wasn't just compiling words; he lived the experiences he wrote about. He gives us one of four accounts of Jesus' life in the Bible, along with Matthew, Mark, and John. These accounts are like different camera angles or a musical quartet, each offering a unique perspective that harmonizes into a fuller understanding.

In Luke 1:1-4, Luke addresses Theophilus, ensuring him of the certainty of the teachings he's received. Luke's meticulous investigation involved speaking to eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Some might question where God is in this human effort. The answer is that human intelligence and effort do not negate the inspiration of scripture. The Holy Spirit uses human methods and personalities as part of divine inspiration.

Paul in 2 Timothy states that all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. God uses the abilities of authors like Luke, a well-educated doctor, to deliver detailed and accurate accounts. For those skeptical about the Bible, Luke's gospel is a great starting point for understanding its credibility.

Peter addresses this in 2 Peter, explaining that no prophecy of scripture came from human interpretation. Prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. This means when we read the Bible, including Luke, Matthew, or any other book, we are reading words inspired and carried by the Holy Spirit.

The image of being carried along by the Holy Spirit is like adding sails to a ship, capturing the wind's power. For those who sail, like some in Arizona who visit Canyon Lake or Lake Pleasant, they understand the concept of hoisting the sails and capturing the wind's guidance.

The authors of God's word hoisted their sails, and God breathed into their work, guiding them to their intended destination. When you open the Bible, know that the Spirit is there on the pages, inspired by God, but also reflecting the personality of the author. Luke, for instance, used more medical terminology than others. He wrote in a specific form of Greek. The word "eyewitnesses" in Greek, 'autopsia', has medical connotations, similar to "autopsy" in English. Luke uses the term 'hyperetes' for 'servants', resembling an intern in the medical field. This shows that the Holy Spirit not only inspired the content but also utilized the style and expertise of the authors.

As we delve into Luke, note how the Spirit is working from the beginning. Luke mentions Zachariah and Elizabeth, a priestly couple who were righteous in God's eyes but childless and advanced in age. Their childlessness was seen negatively 2,000 years ago. Luke provides these details, showing us the extent of their situation.

Their names are significant: Zachariah means "God remembers," and Elizabeth means "God's oath" or "God's promise." This union itself is a testament to God's remembrance of His promises. Names were very meaningful at that time. This symbolism shows that God remembers His promises, even as we age. No matter your age, God has plans for you and wants to use you in powerful ways.

Reflecting on personal experiences, such as the loss of my father, I was guided by someone in our congregation, Arlene Hodge, to listen to a podcast that led me to study the Book of Lamentations. It helped me process my grief and emotions, teaching me it's okay to feel and express grief healthily. Arlene's guidance was a powerful influence, showing how God uses people of all ages.

At our men's day, we mixed different generations in groups to facilitate learning from each other. The Bible emphasizes the importance of learning from those older than us. We can gain so much by being humble and open to learning from each other, especially when guided by the Spirit.

Continuing with Luke, when Zachariah's division was on duty, and he was serving as a priest before God...

Zachariah, a priest from the lineage of Aaron, was chosen by lot to burn incense in the Temple of the Lord, a rare honor among the thousands of priests at that time. This selection, seemingly by chance, was an act of the Spirit, highlighting God's presence in Zachariah's life.

Once inside the temple, Zachariah encountered an unexpected guest—an angel of the Lord, who brought the astonishing news that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, to be named John. This revelation was particularly striking, considering Zachariah and Elizabeth's advanced age and long-standing childlessness. The angel's message underscores a key point: our prayers don't have a shelf life. They may be answered in unexpected ways and times, as was Zachariah's prayer for a child.

The angel's prophecy about John was remarkable: he would be a joy and a delight, abstain from wine and fermented drink, and be filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth. John's role was to prepare the people for the Lord, echoing the power and spirit of Elijah. This fulfills the prophecy from Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, where God promises to send a prophet like Elijah to prepare the way.

The Gospel of Luke acts as a bridge from the Old Testament to the New, continuing the narrative where Malachi left off. It's a natural segue, especially with the mention of Elijah's coming, which aligns with the Old Testament's final words about turning the hearts of parents to their children and vice versa. This continuity between the Testaments illustrates the Holy Spirit's work across time, linking past prophecies with their fulfillment in the New Testament.

Zachariah's selection to burn incense in the temple was an act of the Holy Spirit, despite the overwhelming odds given the large number of priests. His encounter with the angel Gabriel in the temple, who announced the miraculous birth of John, was a pivotal moment. Zachariah's initial doubt led to his temporary muteness as a sign of his disbelief.

This story illustrates how our limited understanding can sometimes hinder the workings of the Holy Spirit. Yet, despite Zachariah's doubt, God's plan moved forward. Elizabeth's subsequent pregnancy was a sign of God's favor, lifting her from her social disgrace.

The naming of their child as John, meaning "the grace of God," was significant. It went against traditional expectations, but it was a clear directive from God. When Zachariah confirmed the name John, his ability to speak was restored, and he praised God. This event left the neighbors and others in awe, wondering about the child's future role, as it was evident that the Lord's hand was with him.

The speaker then poses a thought-provoking question: What would change in your life if you allowed the hand of the Lord to be on you? The Holy Spirit, often depicted as the hand or arm of God, is a dynamic force, moving things in ways that might not be immediately visible, like the wind. The Spirit's presence can lead to triumph, as seen in Psalm 18:16, or humility, leading to exaltation in God's time, as mentioned in 1 Peter 5.

The speaker shares a personal reflection, recounting a humbling experience that morning. While driving and praying a habitual prayer, they were reminded of the importance of being open and receptive to the Spirit's guidance and the profound impact it can have on one's life and perspective.

During my drive, I realized my usual prayer wasn't resonating with me. So, I decided to get honest with God about what was truly on my heart. It was a much-needed moment of openness and vulnerability. It's often easier to humble ourselves than to be humbled by God's mighty hand.

The hand of the Lord is a creative force, present from the beginning, as seen in Genesis, where the Spirit hovered over the waters. Isaiah 48 speaks of God's hand laying the foundations of the earth and stretching out the heavens. This hand calls the stars and maintains order in the universe. It's a hand that upholds and strengthens us, as Isaiah 41:10 reassures us not to fear, for God is with us, offering strength and support.

This hand also remembers and unifies. In 2 Chronicles 30, the hand of God brought unity of mind to the people of Judah, enabling them to follow the king's orders according to the Lord's command. The Holy Spirit, represented as the hand of the Lord, is essential for deliverance, work, and movement.

I encourage you to ponder this question: What will change in your life if you allow the hand of the Lord to be upon you? What if you let the Spirit move in your life as it did in the early verses of Luke, changing history? Your personal history can be altered too. Now, let's stand for one final song to close our gathering.