Do you know Elizabeth's story? This post was first published on 14 November 2011 on the Big Bible Project as the 2nd of my monthly series 'Blogging Women of the Gospels. Here is what I wrote:
Watch out for Elizabeth’s story on the Twitter Nativity, starting soon. You can follow ‘Natwivity’ on Twitter or be a fan on Facebook. If Elizabeth’s voice seems absent from this year’s ‘Natwivity’, what’s stopping you tweeting for her? Elizabeth’s story sometimes gets forgotten in telling of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. But without Elizabeth’s encouragement and insight, who knows what might have happened to her young relative Mary?
Elizabeth’s pregnancy was as unexpected and seemingly impossible as Mary’s.
Disgrace and Disappointment
Elizabeth was a good woman, from an elite family. She was married to a priest – Zechariah – for too many years not to have produced the expected children. Zechariah and Elizabeth were a faithful but childless couple. In the 1st century people assumed infertility was the woman’s fault. Elizabeth felt the reproach of her community. They called Elizabeth ‘barren‘. This was a disgrace. Her husband could have divorced her for that, but he didn’t. Luke writes that Zechariah and Elizabeth “lived blamelessly”. From a religious viewpoint they obeyed God, doing everything right. Did that make it feel all the more cruel for Elizabeth that month after month she faced the evidence of continuing childlessness? Did she wonder if God was punishing her? Did she constantly pray for a child? Did she lose faith when God didn’t provide the hoped-for blessing of maternity? Did she give up hope? Then, as her child-bearing years ended, when she probably felt too old for motherhood, how easy was it to accept being pregnant? When other women of her age were grandparents, was she embarassed by her condition? Until she first felt the movement of the baby, did she fear that her womb growth was a disease?
The name ‘Elizabeth’ means ‘oath of God’ – a reminder that God fulfils his promises. While on temple duty her husband Zecariah received a promise from God delivered by the angel Gabriel, no less. Zechariah didn’t believe what he was told, that Elizabeth would bear him a special son who would bring joy and turn the hearts of many back to God. He thought that was impossible. He and his wife were too old. But, as the angel explained to Mary, in telling her that even Elizabeth had conceived in her old age, “…nothing will be impossible with God”. Elizabeth’s pregnancy, like that of the matriarch Sarah, is a sign of God doing something unexpected when all hope seemed gone.
Grace and Joy
Elizabeth’s child was to be called John, meaning ‘God is gracious’. As John the Baptist he was to prepare the way for Jesus the Christ. Before John’s birth it was Elizabeth who, in Luke’s gospel, was the first person to call Jesus ‘Lord’. It was to Elizabeth’s home that Jesus’ mother Mary hurried, perhaps for reassurance and shelter during her ‘impossible’ pregnancy. In Elizabeth, Mary found the encouragement of a wise older woman, who was also in a difficult situation, but who welcomed her with much more than the expected greeting. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting her unborn child somersaulted for joy. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and sang out loudly to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?…” How immensely reassuring for Mary to hear those God-inspired words.
Read all Elizabeth’s Story
It’s worth reading and pondering the whole story. In the New Testament, only Luke’s gospel tells it. Read it in Luke 1: 5-80.
For further thought and discussion
- Who has been an ‘Elizabeth’ for you? Someone who was ‘there’ for you when you needed it?
- Is there a ‘Mary’ needing your encouragement or mentoring?
- What examples do you know about (or have experienced) that give you evidence that “nothing will be impossible with God”?
Image: Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/x1brett/5289196287/