In today’s episode of All God’s Women we kick off the Women of Christmas series with Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah mother of John the Baptist, and cousin of Mary. Elizabeth had every reason to feel like the best years of her life were long gone, but God, in His infinite goodness, saved the best for last.
Elizabeth’s story takes place in the book of Luke chapter one. In verse 5 we learn that she comes from a family of priests and is married to a priest. It goes on to say that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were “righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.”
Wow! “Walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” How many people could that be said of them? Could it be said of you? I’m sure it couldn’t be said of me. And yet, right after that comes a but.
Verse 7 continues with, “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.” The King James version says they were “well stricken in years.” This goes beyond merely being old. It means they were feeble or perhaps afflicted with disease. They had both lived a good long life, and now their days were coming to an end.
And yet, while Zachariah is going about his business, serving in the temple, an angel appears to him and tells him that their prayer has been heard, that Elizabeth will conceive a child who will bring them joy and gladness. This will be no ordinary child, but one who will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb. This child will prepare the way for the coming Messiah.
There is so much packed into just a few short verses of what the angel tells Zachariah.
First, I love that the angel Gabriel opened by letting Zachariah know that their prayers had been answered. Even though Elizabeth and Zachariah were old, they’d never given up hope but had continued to pray for a child. And God heard their prayer and answered, but not with just any child, which would have been special enough. But He sent them a son who would bring back many of the people of Israel to their Lord God. He would have the spirit and power of Elijah, and he would be the forerunner of the Messiah.
Is it any wonder that Zachariah questioned the angel? But even though the Gabriel struck him mute until after the birth of his son, Zachariah went home and slept with his aged wife, and she conceived.
We’re told that she hid herself for the first five months, thanking the Lord for looking on her and taking away her reproach among the people. For we know that in those days, if a woman was barren, it was assumed that it was due to unrepentant sin in her life. But God made clear that He was just saving her for the right time to have her special child.
When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, her young cousin Mary came to visit. As Mary greeted Elizabeth, baby John leaped in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. I love how in verse 42 it says that Elizabeth exclaimed in a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Not only is Elizabeth aware that Mary is pregnant, but she realizes that Mary is carrying the Messiah child. And she proclaims it in a loud voice.
Then we see how humble and righteous Elizabeth is when she asks why Mary, the mother of her Lord, is coming to see her. Although Mary and Elizabeth are cousins, Elizabeth is advanced in age and Mary is young, but Elizabeth treats Mary with honor and respect.
We’re told that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, returning home just before Elizabeth’s time came to be delivered. I’ve often wondered what went on during those three months. These two women decades apart in age, shared a common experience of uncommon pregnancies. No one else could truly understand what they were going through, but together, they could find comfort and joy as they endured morning sickness, food cravings, and emotional outbursts. Imagine the hours they spent talking and asking each other questions, probably pouring over scripture, trying to find everything they could to prepare them for their sons’ arrival. I imagine they spent a lot of time in prayer together, praying for each other, for their husbands, and for their sons. I suspect they may have cried a tear or two, knowing that the life their sons would live would not be easy.
But the time came for Mary to return home and Elizabeth to begin her new life as a mother. Elizabeth went full term, and when word got out that she’d bore a son, her neighbors and relatives heard how they Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. These same neighbors and relatives had likely worried about her over the years, perhaps whispering to each other, wondering about the sins of Elizabeth and Zachariah that kept them from conceiving. But when the time came and they had their son, everyone rejoiced with her. It was a relief to know that God had heard their prayers and answered them in a most miraculous way.
No more mention is made of Elizabeth after the circumcising of John. All we’re told is that he grew and became strong in spirit and was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.
Since Zachariah and Elizabeth were already old, it’s highly unlikely that they lived to see him grow up to adulthood. Maybe having elderly parents and being left on his own at a young age is what helped John to grow strong in the spirit. If he’d had younger parents, they might have tried to care for him and protect him more, but he needed the experience of being independent to help grow him into the man he was destined to be.
We can learn so much from Elizabeth’s story as she went through many experiences that we, too, go through.
We can easily feel too old to be used. We can question God, wondering why He won’t answer our prayers. Hopefully, though, we can be like Elizabeth and continue praying even though the world would tell us that it’s a hopeless cause.
We can gain hope and encouragement from the way that God miraculously allowed a feeble woman to give birth to a mighty son.
We can be challenged in our role as older woman to be there for younger women when they need us, and to treat them with dignity and respect despite their youth.
And lastly, we can be reminded of how important it is to rejoice with those around us. When others are blessed by God, may we celebrate with them rather than being envious or jealous. May we delight in the miracles God gives to others.
Lord God, thank you for this season of Christmas. Thank You for this time of year when hearts are turned toward You. In this year especially, may those who have gone their own ways be led back to You. Just as John prepared the way for the coming of Jesus, may we help prepare the way for the second coming, drawing others near to You. Forgive us those times when we lose faith. Give us the courage to continue faithfully praying even when the rest of the world mocks us and says we’re wasting our time. Lord, we know that time spent with You is never wasted. We love You so very much. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
That concludes today’s episode of All God’s Women. Next week we continue with our Women of Christmas series, focusing on Mary. We’ll conclude the series with the prophetess Anna.
Bible Study Review
- How was Elizabeth related to Mary?
- What did Elizabeth do the first five months of her pregnancy?
- What was the response of the neighbors when Elizabeth had her baby?
Thoughts to Ponder
- Why did Zacharias and Elizabeth continue to pray for a child?
- Why did Mary come to stay with Elizabeth?
- Why did Mary leave before Elizabeth had had her baby?
- Do you have a prayer that you’ve been praying for years?
- How would you respond if God suddenly answered that prayer?
- Do you know someone else going through something similar to what you’re going through?
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