The following is based on Luke 1:5-25.
Well, hello everyone, my name is Elizabeth. I used to be known as “sad Elizabeth” because myself and Zechariah were unable to have any children, and everyone knew that it was my body that wasn’t working, not Zechariah’s.
What’s that, Zechariah? You didn’t tell them that? No, I know, you never made me feel bad, but I do feel guilty, because it’s true, and you’d make a wonderful father …
Anyway, people used to look at me rather pityingly and the social invitations dried up, because all everyone in the village seemed to have to talk about was their family life, what their kids and then grandkids were up to, and we couldn’t exactly share in these conversations so, to avoid the awkwardness of having to find a different topic of conversation, people simply stopped inviting us over. It’s sad, really, because I do so love children, and wouldn’t have minded being someone’s honorary aunty or loving someone else’s child, given the chance.
Oh no, it’s not good to be childless in this community. You get strange looks, like you’re some sort of outsider. People also think that you’ve been cursed by God – that being childless is some sort of punishment. Of course, we both prayed fervently for children, with tears, many times over many years, until we knew it was both too late. But, I still love my Lord and I know he loves me. Both Zechariah and I have walked with God our whole lives and we’ve sought to follow him as faithfully as we could. We’re both descended from Aaron, you know – Zechariah serves as a priest in the temple, he belongs to the priestly division of Abijah – and he’s very proud about it, aren’t you Zechariah.
Sorry, I should say that Zechariah is here with me, he just can’t talk at the moment, which is why you’re only hearing from me. Normally I wouldn’t get a word in edgeways – sorry, that’s a joke – actually, it hasn’t made that much difference to conversation at home.
Ok, now Zechariah’s rolling his eyes, and gesturing to me – I think he wants me to get on with it.
Ok, where was I? So Zechariah is a priest. Each division takes turns to be on duty at the temple, to help in the day-to-day running of that wonderful place, a week at a time. There are lots of priests who serve in lots of different ways, and each role is decided by lot. Zechariah was thrilled when the lot was cast and he had the privilege of burning incense at the table of incense, which stood in the holy place, as close as any ordinary priest could get to the holy of holies. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for him.
So, he was burning the incense while people were praying outside, when something extraordinary happened.
An angel of the Lord appeared, standing at the right side of the altar. Dear Zechariah was terrified – I don’t blame him! Angels aren’t as cute and cuddly as they’re made out to be, are they, dear?
What’s that? He was that big?
The angel – he called himself Gabriel – tried to reassure him and told him not to be afraid. Then he said something unbelievable. “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. You’ll be overflowing with joy – but you won’t be the only ones – many will delight in his birth. He’s going to be great in God’s eyes, filled to bursting with the Holy Spirit. Many will come back to God through him, there’ll be reconciliation in families because of him; he’ll get the people ready for God.”
Zechariah was gobsmacked, weren’t you, dear? He simply couldn’t believe it, so he said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.” – this wasn’t the cleverest thing you ever said, was it dear, he was an angel, after all!
The Angel wasn’t impressed with that at all – he replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day your son is born. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true in time – God’s time.”
While all this was happening, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he was taking so long, but when he finally came out he couldn’t speak, so he had to try and gesture to them using some sort of sign language, and they twigged that he must have seen a vision or something.
When he came home having finished his duty at the temple, apparently unable to say a word, clearly he had a lot of explaining to do – I wondered at first if it was some sort of trick he was playing because he was bored of talking to me – we have been married an awful long time, you know – but he sat and wrote down everything that had happened. Well, when I read it, I was speechless.
Oh, sorry, poor choice of words.
Ok, I was dumbstruck … that’s not any better, is it?
How about gobsmacked? Not much of an improvement …
Ok, well, I simply couldn’t believe it – and wouldn’t believe it, if it weren’t for the proof that is growing inside me.
We’re going to be parents – I’m going to be a mum. They won’t be calling me sad-Elizabeth anymore. God has been so kind to us. He’s taken away the shame of having no children.
Zechariah can’t wait either, although I may miss the peace and quiet when he’s able to talk again!