Devotion for the Week...
It's kind of amazing that it's time for Advent already, isn't it? How does a year pass so quickly?
For the past three years, I've posted Advent devotions focused on the traditional Advent words hope, love, joy and peace, but this year I want to approach the season a bit differently. For these four weeks, I want to look at the people involved in the Christmas story and look at what their part in that story can tell us about God's plan for His people, including us. We will begin this week by looking at Elizabeth.
We don't know much about Elizabeth herself. Luke tells us that "In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old" (Luke 1:5-7).
From this, we know that Elizabeth and her husband were good people, who lived according to God's law, and had for a long time, since we are told they are very old. We also know the most important thing about Elizabeth, which is that she could not conceive a child.
At that time, and throughout all of history until recently, having a child was a woman's main goal. Being a mother was considered a woman's greatest accomplishment, while not having a child was a cause of shame. Women who can't conceive today still suffer terrible heartache, just as Elizabeth would have, longing for a child to hold in their arms. Elizabeth would have had the added burden of being considered a failure by her entire society.
Can you imagine being considered a complete failure as a person for something that was entirely out of your control? How hard it must have been for Elizabeth when she got so old it was considered impossible for her to have a baby. How heartbroken she must have been to have to give up that hope.
But God had a plan. He hadn't forgotten her.
One day, when Elizabeth's husband Zechariah was serving in the Temple, an angel came to him and said, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (vv. 13-17).
What was Elizabeth's response, after she finally became pregnant? "The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people" (v. 25). Can you feel her relief, her sense of vindication from the judgement of the people who thought her barrenness a sign of God's disapproval?
Not only was God not disapproving of her, He had chosen her for something special. She was to carry the child who would go before Jesus, getting people ready for Him.
So, what does Elizabeth's story mean for us?
Well, when we want something really badly, we want it right away. Like, yesterday, right? But sometimes God's plan is for us to wait. And wait. And sometimes we have to wait even longer.
God didn't make Elizabeth wait until old age to have a baby to be mean to her. He had her wait until then because that was the right time for her part in His plan. That was when everything was set for Jesus to be born, which meant that Elizabeth's very special child needed to be born then too. He would get the people thinking about God again, get them ready to hear Jesus' message about the kingdom of Heaven. And being an old woman, past the age of childbearing, made it obvious that God had done exactly what the angel told Zechariah would happen. Had they been young, Zechariah and Elizabeth might have doubted that their child truly came from God. They might not have bothered to follow the rules God laid out for John, or maybe they wouldn't have taught him about the special job God had planned for him.
But because they were so old, Zechariah and Elizabeth had no doubt that their child had been given to them by God, exactly as the angel explained would happen. Only God could have made it possible for Elizabeth's body to bear a child at her age.
We don't like waiting, especially if we can't see any good reason why we can't have what we want now. Sometimes, though, God's plan requires that we wait for His timing.