For us adults, it’s easy to breeze through the spiritual side of Christmas. After all, you memorized half of Luke 2 that one year for the Christmas pageant at church. At other times, especially if the holiday marks a milestone (first Christmas after your wedding, first with a baby, first without an important person), you latch onto the emotional apron strings of holiday tradition such that you start crying when they flip the switch for the star hanging above the manger during the pageant at church.
The fact that the story and the traditions are so familiar shouldn’t stop us from examining them again. During different Christmas seasons of my adult life, the Lord has brought different personalities to the forefront of the Christmas story. As I ponder that person’s experience, He shows me more of Himself: His love, His sovereignty, His grace. Over the next few weeks, let’s take a look at some of those people and see what fresh thing God has for us.
Zechariah and Elizabeth
Both Elizabeth and her husband were righteous in the sight of God (1:6). Luke went so far as to call them blameless. And yet they had no children.
Imagine how many times they asked God for a baby, how often they cried.
Imagine how hard they tried in those first years.
Imagine the regular visits to family gatherings where their siblings had children…then grandchildren.
With early marriages and no reliable birth control, most women had many children. Having no children was disgraceful. It meant something was wrong with you, God was punishing you, or you were rarely intimate with your husband for some reason.
I lived in a place with a similar mindset (yes, in the 21st century). I watched young women pray desperately, take medicine, visit witchdoctors, and try everything possible to get pregnant. The pressure from their in-laws was suffocating; they faced divorce if they didn’t produce a child—preferably a boy. The loving husband wouldn’t divorce his wife; he would simply take a second one. (To be fair, there were a few exceptional husbands.) I learned how to read the disappointment on these women’s faces every month. Some even got physically sick. After a couple of years, the shame became almost tangible. That’s very similar to what Elizabeth experienced.
They asked “Why?” from
a place of faith.
Don’t discount this part of Elizabeth’s story just because you haven’t struggled with fertility issues. My point is that we all suffer, often secretly, and that God expects many of us to wade through that suffering for a long time before He answers. Did Elizabeth and Zechariah try to put on a happy face? Did they pretend everything was okay? I don’t know. I do know they didn’t turn away from God. Maybe they asked, “Why?” but they asked from a place of faith, not judgment or selfishness. I can imagine that they leaned on Scripture like Psalm 119:75-76 ESV, I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old (1:7). I think they had given up on having children, releasing that prayer. Have you ever given up on praying for something only to have your prayer answered years later? God always hears. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us (1 John 5:14). How and when God responds is up to Him—and the possibilities are innumerable!—but He does hear. Look at what the angel says to Zechariah: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard” (1:13), and remember James 5:16, The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
When it comes to God, don’t take His silence to mean he is ignoring you or refusing you. Perhaps the time isn’t right. Perhaps He has a better alternative. Perhaps He’s waiting for you to learn something or be obedient in a certain matter or come to a certain place in your spiritual walk. Perhaps…well, you get the picture. God has given us many lines of encouragement for those times—verses like Psalm 27:14, Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Know that when God asks us to wait, it’s worth it.
His Will is worth the wait.
Elizabeth joined an all-star line-up of barren women: Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, Hannah… In every situation, the long-awaited child grew up to be important in the story of God’s people. Same thing here. The angel says as much right there in the temple with Zechariah: “He will be great in the sight of the Lord” (1:15). Think about the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:9) or the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Perseverance, endurance, patience…these things are easier in groups. Like a roof doesn’t stand on one pillar, sharing our burden with others will help all of us to wait patiently. There are stories in the Bible to encourage you and stories in the lives of your Christian family to do the same.
As usual, we’re only getting started on all the Lord has for us just in the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth! The remainder of Luke 1 reveals much more about their character, their story, and God’s sovereignty. If there’s something that’s significant to you about these two, please share it in the comments below.