Women of Advent:
Elizabeth, declarer of blessing
God with us: a life of love
It is a familiar story, at least to those whose lives were centered around Torah. A barren woman. A promise from God. Disbelief, yet faithfulness. We could be talking about Sarah and Abraham, or we could be talking about Elizabeth and Zechariah. Today, I’m talking about the latter, or more specifically Elizabeth.
Elizabeth enters Luke’s Gospel being introduced as four things: a wife of a priest, a righteous person, childless, and very old. These are all significant to the story as it unfolds. Her husband receives a message from God that they will have a child and then loses his ability to speak. It’s the start of an epic story, isn’t it? At least, Elizabeth seems to think so. In her husband’s silence, Elizabeth speaks words of praise and hope. “God has shown favor and removed my disgrace,” whispers Elizabeth. Perhaps she knew that her worth was inestimable despite living in a society that valued its women for their ability to produce male offspring. With this declaration, she confidently pronounces that God sees her, God knows her, and God is for her.
A little while later, we hear Elizabeth speak truth again, declaring a blessing over Mary and her growing belly. It is a powerful reversal of the story passed down for generations. The womb is a source of sorrow for women, a part of the burden carried by living in world that does not live up to the Edenic ideal. Yet, Elizabeth powerfully declares the opposite. That the carrying of this child is a blessing, and that this child will be a blessing. The woman who couldn’t be pregnant and the woman who shouldn’t be pregnant make for an ironic scene as the place to pronounce God’s blessing—yet it is the very place God’s blessing and presence rests. And here it is that we embrace the mystery of Advent—that even in the darkness and perplexing circumstances, God is with us. Patiently, lovingly at work to achieve all that is good and right. Elizabeth had eyes of faith to see what others could not and a heart that was captured by the divine love of God. And the mystery only deepens, that God would speak through and use the least likely vessels in that society and bestow favor on them.
Elizabeth makes one more declaration in this passage. There’s a big party going on because Elizabeth against all odds has brought new life into the world. Cultural expectations were that the child should be named after the father, but Elizabeth has the strength to obey the message from God. She declares, “No, the child’s name will be John.” In a way that is too relatable to many women, the people gathered dismiss her words and turn to Zechariah to give the child’s name. How surprised they were when Zechariah confirmed Elizabeth’s words with his pen! The obedience of Elizabeth and Zechariah in this passage is moving, and becomes part of the movement of God in the world.
The good news for aching hearts this season is that God is indeed with us. The good news for joyful hearts this season is that God is with us. The good news for all of us this season wherever we are and however we are feeling, is that God is with us.
Elizabeth, declarer of God’s blessing and truth, we thank you for the faith you had and the role you played in the bringing about of God’s goodness and purpose in the world.
May we who live in this time have eyes of faith to see what others cannot and hearts that are open to the moving of God in our world. May we know deep in our being that God is most certainly with us.
Light a candle. Sit in front of it and watch its flame flicker and burn. Allow that flame to be a physical reminder of the presence of God that is with us always. You may like to practice the breathing practice from last week as you watch the candle. Stay as long as you need, and if you don’t have time, you probably need to sit longer.