This Christmas I would like to tell you a different story – a perspective we don’t often consider when we read of a lowly manger and angels singing. I invite you to explore the Christmas story through the eyes of three women who lived the Christmas story: Elizabeth, Mary and Anna. The first sister we meet in the gospel of Luke is Elizabeth. I have a special place in my heart for the mother of John the Baptist. Like each of the women in the Christmas story, her faithfulness is inspirational. God demonstrates his perfect providence through his answer to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s decades-long yearning prayers for a child, in the right way at the right time. If you and I could sit down with Elizabeth over a cup of coffee, I’m sure she would have an abundance of wisdom to share with us.
We read Elizabeth’s story in Luke 1:5-25 and 57-80.
Elizabeth is only mentioned in Luke 1 but we learn quite a bit about her in this rich chapter. Luke paints a picture of Elizabeth and Zechariah, a righteous and faithful couple, both of whom came from the line of Aaron (a family of priests). Not only were they childless but they were well beyond their childbearing years. However, God had a big plan. God allowed Zechariah to receive his once-in-a-lifetime turn to enter the holy of holies inside the tabernacle in time for the angel Gabriel to give him the message that Elizabeth will bear a son. Zechariah found this unbelievable, and as a result, was struck mute until the baby was born exactly as the angel had described. Elizabeth, on the other hand, had no doubt in God’s grace and power. When she became pregnant she could exclaim “How kind the Lord is” (Luke 1:25).
While Elizabeth was six months pregnant, Mary visited her with the news of her own pregnancy with Jesus. In the presence of Mary and her child, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy as Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. This was the first sign that John would have a very important role to play in preparing the people of God for the Messiah.
God’s perfect providence
This story of a growing family points us to the perfect plans of God. John was born at precisely the right time in history. Many pieces of a larger puzzle had to be in place for the time to be ripe for the birth of Jesus, even if it meant giving an old couple a new baby. Mary had to be ready, even though she was much younger than Elizabeth. Julius Ceaser had to decree the census to force Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem where Jesus was predicted to be born. The priests in the temple had to cast the lots in such a way that Zechariah would go into the holy of holies at this appointed time.
Examples like these remind us that nothing that happens to us is out of God’s providence. Each one of us was born at exactly the right time to fulfil our purpose to the glory of our almighty God. Just like John had the necessary skills and aptitude to fulfil his vocation, God also created each of his children with a specific design to be used for his good work. God has given us this life, with this specific set of gifts, at this specific time to serve his glory.
Learning from Elizabeth
If you and I could meet Elizabeth for a cup of coffee, she would probably have so much inspirational wisdom to share:
1. She probably taught John the words that he would later use to comfort his disciples: “A man can receive only what has been given to him from heaven.” (John 3:27) Elizabeth was never jealous of Mary, even though Mary was much younger when she became pregnant, and she was pregnant with the Christchild. When Mary visits Elizabeth she can even exclaim “And why is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:43-45) Elizabeth shows us how to share in the joy of others with humility and admiration and without jealousy.
2. Infertility was seen as a great shame in the ancient Jewish culture. Yet through the battle of the unanswered prayers of two righteous and obedient people, we learn that unanswered prayers are not a judgement from God. Instead, God’s perfect answer at the perfect time was a greater blessing than if Elizabeth and Zechariah’s prayers were answered when they were younger.
3. Before the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple, God had not spoken to his people in over 400 years. Surely many would have lost hope in the promises of God to send a redeemer for his people. Yet, Elizabeth shows us that the yearning for the Messiah was still burning strong in her heart. The Holy Spirit revealed to her that Mary was pregnant with the Lord, only because her heart was already looking forward to his coming. Similarly, we should not lose hope in the return of Jesus. Our eyes and our hearts should be ready to meet him at any and all times.
4. Elizabeth would also reassure us that God hears our prayers. She would encourage us that God sees our faithfulness which results in serving and worshipping him. She would remind us that he loves us and will work out our lives to his purpose, regardless of how old we might be.
As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, let’s remind ourselves of all the stories of how God chose ordinary people to fulfil his great purposes. Over three hundred prophecies about the life of Jesus were fulfilled during his birth, life and death. This was only possible through God’s perfect hand of providence. Some of these prophecies were realized through his intervention in the life of Elizabeth. We can’t see Elizabeth face to face, but let’s enjoy our coffee while we read and reflect on God’s incredible hand in her life.