For the very first time I sat in a church service that would intentionally gear the sermons for the rest of December for Advent. Growing up I was not familiar with the idea of Advent. It was actually not until I came to Thistlebend that I first heard the word. The sermon on this particular Sunday, Zechariah and Elizabeth, was a second topic that I am not too familiar on. (Although I can vividly recall the moment in my late teens when I discovered Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were related.)
Elizabeth and Zechariah were not just any old people. He was a priest and she had an extremely impressive lineage. As we got further into the sermon I couldn’t help but feel as though I could relate to Elizabeth and her husband. Not in the way of him being a priest and she being a decedent of Aaron, but in their struggle to have a child. Still, I believe they didn’t find their identity in having children because the Bible goes on to say that they were “…walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6b). They were faithful, obedient, and upright believers. The Word of God makes it very clear that in His sight, Elizabeth and Zechariah were seen as “righteous” (Luke 1:6a).
I found myself sitting on that seat in church crying because, as a woman, I can all too well imagine what Elizabeth was going through. The pastor mentioned that they lived in an historical and cultural context where not having children would have been seen as a punishment from God. I can relate to the month to month struggle of realizing that conceiving is not happening and feeling like it probably won’t. I know what it feels like to have it cross my mind that maybe this is a direct result of my own doing. I don’t know about Elizabeth, but it can be heart wrenching at times because you still try and hold on to the hope that if you can just remain faithful, He will provide. So the months are painful when your faith is starting to run thin. We might not know exactly what Elizabeth was thinking but we do know that “they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). This is the same couple who God himself saw as righteous. They were righteous but still having this deep desire withheld from them. If anyone could continue clinging to the idea that maybe, just maybe, the Lord was probably going to give them the desire of their heart because their ways were pleasing to Him, IT WAS THIS COUPLE.
Throughout the sermon other characteristics about this couple and their story began to take shape. Yes she was advanced in age and barren; nevertheless they remained faithful in their walk with God. We don’t read how they went off taking matters into their own hands. We don’t read about Elizabeth giving Zechariah permission to be with anyone in order to appease their heart’s desire. In fact in this same historical and cultural context you can review many sources that give evidence of a man actually divorcing a woman because she has not conceived a child. This act of divorce would have been seen as entirely valid, and the husband would be free to marry again without consequence; the husband would be able to pursue having a child once more.
We instead read that Zechariah continued in the duties of the priesthood. By this time who knows how many years had gone by. But in God’s timing, when Zechariah was chosen to have the honor to enter the Holy of Holies in the temple, God sent word through the angel Gabriel that Elizabeth would give birth to a son. Can you imagine what encountering Gabriel in the temple must have been like? It is during this time in the temple that Zechariah in a state of doubt says, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18). It hit me in that moment that it doesn’t matter who you are, how well you are positioned within your church, or how long you have been a believer. Your doubt in God can creep in. I have watched it happen in believers who are “veterans” and I have experienced it personally. I too could relate to this! I say I know Him, and I believe He is God, and yet I have doubted Him more times than I can count. I have doubted Him even in the midst of plain-as-day answers that He has provided for me.
I could go on about all the things I journaled about while looking through this particular story. In this season of my life, this couple’s struggle and answered prayers spoke to my heart. I found that this account in the Bible not only spoke to me because I could relate to their struggle of trying to have children. But it is a beautiful picture of how I need to respond in faithfulness in the capacity to which He has called me to serve. I can’t just throw my hands in the air because I don’t get exactly what I am wanting or what I feel I deserve. It is remaining obedient and faithful to the God you serve despite your circumstances. It is a testament to not walking out in front of God before He tells you to move, no matter how long you have been a believer who feels like they can make their own “sound decisions.” It is trusting whole heartedly that He hears you and sees you right where you are. Most of all, it is trusting Him with your heart because He has a plan for you that is better than what you could ever have for yourself.
Before I close, I wanted to share this with you. Zechariah’s name can be translated “the Lord remembers.” I also found that Elizabeth’s name can be translated, “the oath of God.” And their son, John’s name means, “the Lord is gracious.” A writer put it this way:
And how very gracious He had been to them. They merely asked for a son to carry on the family name and priesthood. God gave them the forerunner of the Messiah, a child upon whom the hand of God was evident from his earliest days, a man whom Jesus Christ would call the greatest among men (Matt. 11:11). God does not always give according to our asking, and certainly not according to our deserving. He gives according to the riches of His grace.
All for His Glory