With all the world she stands pregnant. Beneath her heart beats the tiny one of the messenger. This old woman once belittled by the townsfolk, A raisin dried in the desert sun, now stretching and blooming with life, Elizabeth holds her noble head erect and proud knowing she bears a holy burden. A voice cries out and the babe once still, so small that only a few have noticed the swelling, leaps for joy! All four limbs stretch to their full length in the first steps of a dance begun by the angels deep within the womb of his mother. The eyes of the women meet, filling the distance with shared wonder as they cross the sands to meet face to face.
Though I have never physically borne a child from my body, I can relate to Elizabeth in many aspects. Even if you are not a woman, I believe you can, as well, for who hasn’t spent the past two years feeling dried up and fruitless? I do not know of many who would consider this season a time where they have done their best work. I certainly haven’t.
I thought the slowing down of life as we knew it would make me prolific in both home and work. I assumed the unrest and division we have endured would awaken sleepy souls and cause a revival of love and justice to sweep the land. I awaited what I believed were the promises of God, not realizing the pain that would have to be experienced in order to hold joy safely in my hand. In many ways, I still wait.
And such was Elizabeth…past her prime, hopeless and weary in waiting. She believed the fruitful years had passed, that the winter of her life was upon her and the simple routines of each day, the grinding of wheat for bread, the carrying of water as it splashed over the edge of a bucket, the offer of help with a neighbor child though the desire for a child of her own would be forever unfulfilled, was all she would ever have.
Elizabeth had a choice. She could either shut the door to unfulfilled longing and be content with the every day, or dare to wildly hope for a miracle.
Elizabeth dared to hope.
Zechariah’s silence in the face of wonder was all she needed. The glow of his eyes as he looked upon his wrinkled wife’s bulging belly would be a golden thread connecting her heart to the God who saw her, who chose her, who used her to bring to the world the baptizer.
And then, somehow, her body found the strength to bring forth the child. Youth would not be her ally. There were no doctors to attend her labor, no numbing anesthetics to dull the pain. Women would be by her side, much younger than she, but ones who had endured this pain and lived to tell about it. Prayers were surely whispered, urgent cries for strength, and finally joy…unimaginable laughter the moment he emerged from her womb.
I wrote this poem in 2018, imagining the moment when Mary, the mother of Christ, arrived and baby John leapt for joy in his mother’s belly. I wrote it long before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19. The world was already in pain, though, grieving death and injustice on the streets and in the courts. But a pandemic added to the wrinkled and torn pages of our history seemed to be almost cruel. Vicious.
Like Elizabeth, today’s children of God stand pregnant with a promise. No, the answers to the world’s problems will not come from us, but they will come through us. We are like Elizabeth in the waiting, but we are also John. We are the mouths that shout of God’s love, the feet that bring good news, and the hands which are unworthy to even untie the sandals on Jesus’ feet…yet He calls us friend.
Oh, that we would see the Hope that lies before us. No matter how bad things may get, no matter how hopeless we may feel, there is a promise that has been made and will be kept. (Revelation 21:3)
Our call is one of rest, believe it or not. To be a vessel that carried the forerunner of Christ, Elizabeth only had to believe and rest. She only had to be available and wait. Yes, the labor was painful, but her body did what it was designed to do and she simply had to endure and cooperate with the contractions as they came.
The moment she held baby John in her arms, every year, every tear, and every fear faded. As a mother who had to wait years and jump through many hoops to become one, I remember that feeling well. I also, as a mother, know her future would be a mixture of joy and grief, but she had seen God move. She had felt His promise leap in her belly. She had nursed him in the night.
Her son would endure suffering that she could not prevent. He would die and have his head delivered on a platter to appease an unholy queen. No matter how much Elizabeth loved and prayed for her child, his destiny was one of great hope mixed with suffering and pain. I don’t know if Elizabeth lived to see the end of her son’s life. Given her age at his birth, it is unlikely…Thank God. But she was not naive. She knew the culture in which she and Zechariah were raising him. She knew the consequences for going against the grain, living for a God who called them to a different and set-apart life. She knew history, how the lives of prophets often ended because their message was rejected by a sinful and rebellious people.
But she trusted this God who had done the miraculous. She watched a child borne of hope, born of her aged womb, grow to manhood before her eyes. No matter what the future held, she remembered the promise spoken by his earthly father in front of the temple that day…
And child, you will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from n high will visit us to ship on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.Luke 1:76-79
Elizabeth chose joy despite what the future might hold. Not a naive, storybook joy, but a joy that bled from a heart split wide by a miracle that still baffles us today. She and Zechariah held that baby and looked into his soft, perfect face with a love that they never knew would be their story. A love that came straight from the heart of their good, good Father. A love that is mine, and yours, if we simply choose to place our hope in the hands of the One who is our Hope.
Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him.Job 13:15
Yet I will hope in Him.
On this first Sunday of Advent, may we choose to be a people of Hope.