As we enter into this advent season, my mind often turns to the women who played such an instrumental role in the Christmas story and what it must have been like to see the life of Jesus unfold firsthand.
Often we focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus, and understandably. A teenage, unwed virgin bearing the Son of God warrants noticing. But I’m also struck by her older cousin Elizabeth, who’s own miraculous story is intricately woven into the beautiful tapestry of the Christmas story.
The name Elizabeth means “God is my oath” and it couldn’t be a better fit for her. In Luke 1:5-60, we learn that Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were well along in years, but had no children. In Elizabeth’s day, a woman’s value was wrapped up in her ability to be able to bear children, and not just children, but a son to carry on the family name and her husband’s legacy. With each passing childless year, Elizabeth and Zechariah’s disappointment would have been profound. But where faith might falter for many, they instead leaned into the Lord’s faithfulness and continued to pray for a child. They continued to serve in the church and in their community. Elizabeth’s years of disappointment deepened rather than destroyed her faith.
Imagine her surprise when an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah to tell him that they would be parents to a son and they should name him John. And he wouldn’t be just any son, but great in the Lord’s eyes, a joy and a delight and one who would help prepare the hearts of all Israel for the coming Messiah.
I can only imagine the flood of emotion and wonder that must have rushed over Elizabeth in that moment. Even though she was well past her childbearing years, she would be having a son! In her joy, she praises God, saying “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” (Luke 1:25 NLT)
What I love about Elizabeth is that she is a picture of calm, and quiet confidence. She appears to be unruffled by life and seems to take everything in stride. No doubt she experienced all sorts of emotions and feelings, but when we see her described, she is not ruled by her emotion, but by her faith. That quiet confidence came from her relationship with God and her heart being open to the Holy Spirit guiding and helping her. Her confidence was in God, because He has always been faithful. And now she was literally living out a miracle in her own story.
Because Elizabeth knew God, she didn’t question how He was working. She was secure in who He was, therefore she was secure herself. This translated to many different areas of her life: how she dealt with disappointment, grief and possibly shame during her childless years, as well as how she interacted in her relationships. Establishing her identity and confidence in the Lord, positively impacted her relationship with her husband by helping solidify their faith as a couple. It rippled out into her extended family and to her friends and neighbors as they shared her joy when her baby was born (vs. 58). Her God-confidence influenced how she navigated the unexpected surprise of a baby in her later years and how she related to her younger cousin, Mary, when she came to visit with the news that she too was pregnant with a miracle.
This interaction between Mary & Elizabeth is perhaps my favorite part of Elizabeth’s story and such a beautiful example of God’s provision of community. As baby John leaps in her womb upon hearing Mary’s voice, Elizabeth immediately recognizes that Mary is the mother of the Lord. It makes sense that she would recognize God’s handiwork having just experienced a miracle of her own. The joy and wonder she and Mary share as they marvel at how the Lord is at work in their lives, and through the lives of their children is a treasure.
What a gift God gave them in being able to relate so deeply to one another, even just to process together all that was happening and unfolding. It is such a beautiful example of God’s perfect provision and timing. John was going to prepare the people’s hearts for Jesus’ arrival. Had he come when Elizabeth had first prayed for a child, too much time could have gone by between John’s teaching and Jesus’ arrival, and the hearts of the people may have again grown cold. Perhaps God was preparing Elizabeth all this time, knowing that Mary would need a caring and wise, mature mentor to help her navigate the difficulties that lay ahead in her own story. Whatever the reasons, Elizabeth’s quiet confidence and mature faith, no doubt blessed Mary more that we can even know.
As we reflect on the Christmas story and the anticipation of Christmas itself, I want to encourage you, in your own season of waiting. Maybe you are bringing your own persistent prayer ever before Him or you’re eagerly awaiting the day when the Lord returns and sets all things right again. Perhaps you are experiencing the chronic disappointment of life not going at all the way you had hoped or planned, or you’re reeling from a sudden, unexpected change you didn’t see coming (good or bad). Know that the same God who loved and provided for Elizabeth, loves you and will provide for you too. He sees you and knows your needs. As you lean on Him, you can trust wholeheartedly that He will cultivate in you a faith that leads to joy and security in any situation. Because of your relationship with God, you too can have quiet confidence that God is working powerfully in your circumstances, and that the story He is writing in your life will also be one of His perfect provision and profound love.