Expecting – Elizabeth’s story for Advent
I think we had both just giving up hoping, well to be fair Zechariah had given up long before, I had only recently begun to doubt myself.
All his brothers had had their sons and some of them were already grown and getting married themselves, so he thought that our chance of having children was long past. We had not given up trying but it had become rarer and rarer for us, he just buried himself in his work and in the temple, and I in the home. Some of our friends deserted us, and even some of the women in the synagogue looked down on me and said that God must be displeased with us because I was barren. I laughed this off at first but it still hurt, and then I wondered why God was angry at me. Zechariah and I prayed and prayed. We tried to live exceptional lives, we obeyed every law, we went to the priests and we begged God in prayer but still no child came.
Yet, always for me there was this nagging thought, this sense that God had something in hand, I maintained a glimmer of hope and it never quite sat right with me that we would be childless. But then another anniversary would come, our nieces and nephews got older and older and even Mary, my sister’s daughter was engaged to be married. I had thought that I would have a son or a daughter to grow up with her. I looked to the stories in the Torah, Sarah had been blessed with a child in her old age, and so had Rachel, but they had both taken a miracle from God. Many of the friends I had left reminded me that God doesn’t do miracles anymore, and hasn’t since before the exile and if he wanted to step in now, he would not have let the Romans take over our land and desecrate David’s kingdom. I think they thought I was foolish to even think these old stories were true. ‘You have reached the age’ they would say ‘it is too late for you now’. This wore me down eventually, and Zechariah and I just got on with our lives, and he went off periodically to the temple to serve as usual.
Then it was his time to burn the incense for the worship and he was so excited about it, he talked and talked about how much of an honour this was and packed his bags excitedly. When he came back a few days later I expected him to give me a blow by blow account of all he had done, to tell me everything about it, but he didn’t say a word. When he walked in, he just had this huge smile on his face, he was literally beaming. He threw his bag down in the corner, whisked me up and held me so tight and for so long. I could feel his tears of joy dampening my neck as he hugged me – I remember thinking ‘but you have only been away for a couple of days’.
I knew right away I was pregnant, the very next morning I felt different, I could feel the change within my body. I didn’t need to try and work out Zechariah’s gestures, I knew. Together we knelt down in our bedroom and prayed and praised God, Zechariah was still silent so I said the words. We were probably there praying for about an hour, I can’t remember which psalms I sang but I remember thanking God for this miracle ‘in these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.’
Later I wondered what it all meant – why God had acted in this way, I resolved to spend the whole time of my pregnancy in solitude and prayer – I would rededicate myself to the Lord and contemplate what had happened.
I had a feeling that God wasn’t just going to take away my disgrace, there was a greater plan at work which would be for everyone.
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty,9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”