Over the next four posts, I’m going to focus on four individuals in the Advent season/runup to Christmas. They are Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, and of course, Mary and Joseph. Each of these individuals has something vital to teach us today. They are examples of trusting our Lord in the midst of their lives. All four of them joined the great cloud of witnesses nearly two thousand years ago. Thankfully, the apostle Matthew and the disciple, Luke, recorded their gospel accounts under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Let’s turn our attention to Elizabeth.
Luke introduces us to Zechariah and Elizabeth in the first chapter of his gospel in verses five through seven. We learn that Elizabeth’s lineage springs from Aaron’s line, which God designated as the priestly line in Exodus 40:12-15. It’s a glorious spiritual heritage, which Elizabeth and her husband refused to rely on in their lives. According to Luke 1:6, “…they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” It’s wonderful to read this about Elizabeth. She refuses to take for granted her spiritual heritage. Another way to say this is that Elizabeth doesn’t succumb to obligation or duty in her walk with the Lord.
Before the gospel writer closes out this little introduction, he reveals something else about Elizabeth that evokes compassion. In the latter part of verse seven, Luke informs the reader that Elizabeth had been unable to bear children. The term Luke uses is barren. The inability to bear children is such a heart-rending reality for some women. The reasons tend to be multifaceted, and in the end, the reasons cease to be important. Why? The consequences of the reasons for one’s barrenness are most pressing as it means the inability to bear children. This is Elizabeth’s reality. When she sees her female neighbors either pregnant, nursing newborns, or walking with a child, the pain of her barrenness comes up again and again and again.
When reviewing the whole counsel of scripture, we learn that Elizabeth has peers in the realm of barrenness. For example, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah are Godly women of the Old Testament, who experienced the ravaging condition of barrenness. Each one experiences God’s grace in the ability to bear a son: Sarah gives birth to Isaac, the child of promise; Rebekah winds up having twins: Esau and Jacob, the latter being the continuation of the promise; Rachel has Joseph and Benjamin with the former being a type of Christ in the Old Testament through his provision and protection of his family in Egypt; and Hannah gives birth to Samuel, Israel’s greatest Old Testament judge.
Those examples show God’s wondrous provision and breakthrough in the area of barrenness. Elizabeth knows the accounts of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Hannah. They’re in her blood. She identifies with their anguish. No one needs to tell Elizabeth to hope in the God who provided for Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah. Of these four women, Elizabeth’s story resembles most closely both Rebekah’s and Hannah’s. Isaac prays for Rebekah regarding her barren condition, and God responds by enabling her to have twins (Genesis 25:21, ESV). Zechariah prays for Elizabeth, and Gabriel appears to him with God’s response that their child will be John the Baptist, the promised forerunner to the Messiah (Luke 1:8-25, ESV). Just as Hannah dedicates Samuel to the Lord for his lifelong call as prophet and judge, Elizabeth receives instructions to set apart her forthcoming child to the Lord (1 Sam. 1:10-28; Luke 1:8-23, ESV).
What does all this mean for us today? For starters, advent is a season that anticipates Christ’s second coming by reflecting upon his first. The hope of believers in this present, New Covenant age is the glorious appearing of Jesus, our blessed hope (Titus 2:13, ESV). According to the apostle Paul, the church’s and all of creation’s expectation of Christ’s second advent are similar to the birthing process (Rom. 8:20-23, ESV). Today, we yearn for the coming of Christ to set us free from our bodies of death or barrenness. We long to see all of creation set free, too. This is no different than Elizabeth’s desire to have a child, to experience life burst through her barrenness in a glorious way.
Elizabeth’s hope and trust in the Lord to deal with her barrenness speaks to us. In her pitiable condition, God gives an answer to his daughter. Elizabeth rejoices in her reproach being no more with the birth of John the Baptist. His birth points to Christ’s, who is the Father’s answer to our reproach for all time. Christ has set us free with respect to salvation; however, this is a down payment while we await our glorification at his second coming according to Romans 8:23. Are we, believers in Christ’s church, longing for God to speak and move powerfully in the reproach of the least, the little, and the lost? Do we thank and praise God like Elizabeth did for removing our reproach in Christ?