Thursday, December 11, 2008

Elizabeth's Shout for Joy!

I was just a girl when I married. So young and full of dreams of what the future might bring. We were just children when Zechariah and I were promised to each other. My mother was so pleased. Her daughter Elizabeth would be the wife of a priest. Her grandchildren would be in the line of Abijah- the family of priests.

When the time came for our wedding- I was ready to be Zechariah’s wife. My mother had carefully taught me the Torah. Together we had sewn the linens I would need to keep a household. My brothers had built me furniture for my new home, including a cradle for the children they knew I would soon have.

But there were no babies. My friends, my sister, my cousins- each one blossomed with new life. But I was barren. No babies to cuddle. No toddlers to laugh with and play with. No daughters to teach. No sons to follow in their father’s footsteps.

Zechariah is a kind and faithful man. He didn’t point a finger of blame. He has told me again and again how much he cherishes our life together. He has held me when I have cried. He has promised that even if he had known there would be no children- still he would have married me.

But I know that he too has grieved the lack of children in our lives.

It is hard to be a woman without children. Our friends and family are understanding. But there was a time, when we were younger, when Zechariah was advised by well meaning friends to divorce me. To put me aside because of my barrenness.

I have heard the whispers over the years. “Poor Elizabeth,” they say. “What could she have done to have the Lord treat her this way?” I have seen the sympathetic looks. People looking at me or glancing at Zechariah. “Poor man, they say. He could have had a large and happy family, if not for her. She’s barren, you know.”

It wears on a person. You never get used to it. It’s exhausting.
We prayed for a child. But the answer was always, “No.”

And then things changed.

On a very ordinary day- a Sabbath- much like any other, Zechariah was serving at the temple. It was his turn to burn the incense that morning. He entered the temple, while we waited outside. And we waited for a very long time! It was strange. I wondered if something had gone wrong. After all, Zechariah wasn’t a young man any more.

When he came out, he could say nothing. But that wasn’t the thing that was most noticeable about him. He had an aura about him. There was a change about him. And I knew at once that something grand had happened to him. Something holy.

When we got home, Zechariah shared with me what had happened to him. He drew pictures and wrote words. The Lord had promised to give us a child. And not just any child, but one who would be a messenger- a prophet of the Lord.
And because of John, the angel said, parents will be more thoughtful of their children. And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to. That is how John will get people ready for the Lord.

Because he questioned the Lord’s promise, Zechariah lost his voice. And I can’t say I blame him. I had my own doubts, but I kept them to myself. And after several weeks, I realized that a miracle had truly happened. At a time in their lives when most women are becoming grandmothers, I was going to have a baby.
I knew that the birth of a healthy child would bring me honor. People would no longer look down on me as barren. The whispers would stop. The pitying looks would be no more.

I took no risks. I stayed at home. I ate healthy foods. I got plenty of rest. And I prayed every day for our baby.

When the time came for the baby to begin moving, I felt nothing. No kicks, no turns, not even a flutter. I tried not to worry. But I wondered if maybe something had gone wrong.

The angel had promised we would have a child. He even gave us the baby’s name- John. The child had to come. Strong and true and alive. And yet it was hard not to worry.

Zechariah tried to reassure me. He wrote in large script on a piece of parchment- “God will not disappoint us.” And so when I found myself feeling nervous or anxious, I would look at those words and pray.

When I was about midway through my pregnancy, I got a letter from my sister telling me that her daughter Mary was coming for a visit. Mary had always been a special favorite of mine. Together we could work on some of the preparations for my coming baby. There were diapers and clothes to finish making. And the old cradle made so long ago by my brothers, needed some mending before the baby was born.

When Mary arrived a few weeks later, I was in the house, washing dishes. I heard her at the door and when I turned she called my name, “Elizabeth, peace be with you.”

And then the most remarkable thing happened- the baby within me leapt for joy.
I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was yelling. I was hollering for anyone to hear.

“God has blessed you more than any other woman! He has also blessed the child you will have. Why should the mother of my Lord come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, my baby became happy and moved within me. The Lord has blessed you because you believed that he will keep his promise.”

I was so excited. No, it was more than excitement. It was pure joy and the fulfillment of a long held hope. Not just my hope for a baby or my joy at his coming. In that moment I knew that all of our people’s ancient longings for redemption had finally come to pass. Mary, my dear sweet Mary, was going to give birth to the Messiah. She was carrying the Redeemer of all humanity. And in that moment I knew that we could face the future with confidence and excitement.

Can you imagine? Two impossibly pregnant women- the barren wife of an aging priest, and an unknown virgin with neither royal blood nor an important family- singing and praising God- because he had blessed us with this impossible gift.
Mary said, “With all my heart I praise the Lord, and I am glad because of God my Savior. God, the All-Powerful has done great things for me. Hisname is holy. He always shows mercy to his people. He made this promise to our ancestors, and now it is coming to pass.

In the time since that day, I have come to know more deeply that the world is desperately in need of the kind of joy and hope that Mary and I have come to know.
There is great pain in the world- both public and private. People’s hearts are longing for something more. Something different than what the world usually offers. Their souls are hungry for hope and joy.

Despite the fact that we have a connection to God, there are times when, rather than depending on God, we look to our selves for fulfillment. We try to fill the emptiness inside us with the things we can do or the things we can get.
And if we look only to ourselves for hope and joy we are sorely disappointed. Because the good news that we long for- the good news that will fill us up- cannot be found in the world alone or in our selves alone.

And it is to this very longing- to this very emptiness that we sometimes feel- that Mary’s child was sent. The delight, the love, the wonder that we felt that day was sent to fill all the world’s pain- to fill our pain.

We sang that day, not because of anything we had accomplished, but because of the new life that we shared.

We celebrated because although the world and nature itself named us as barren- we were instead suddenly filled with life.

A life that shook the foundations of the world. Even though the world had absolutely no idea what was going on.

I invite you to join in our rejoicing, for one reason, and one reason only, and that is: because God loves us enough to act.

God loves us enough to come to us- to the most barren, the most unnoticed, to the very least of us- TO ALL OF US. And he comes to plant in us, and in our world, God's own life, God's own hope, and God's own promises of peace.

1 comment:

zorra said...

Beautiful. Thanks.