Can we talk about Elizabeth for a second?
I know what you're thinking - who's Elizabeth? You're racking your brain, but no one in the Bible comes to mind, so maybe I'm talking about someone you're supposed to be seeing in the news. Or maybe someone famous, someone on Twitter maybe. An author? C'mon, now, you can do this. Maybe I'm talking about someone I know that you don't know yet, but I'm planning on introducing her to you. Who is Elizabeth?
Just kidding. Elizabeth is a Bible character. She is the wife of Zechariah, which on an average day might be as much help to most persons (even most Christians) as telling you her name is Elizabeth, but if you've been reading along for the past week, you remember we were talking about Zechariah for a few days. So that makes Elizabeth the wife of the priest who was promised a son named John, and that makes her the mother of John the Baptist.
With all of that settled out, are you ready to go now? Let's talk about Elizabeth.
Elizabeth bears the story of so many of the amazing women in God's narrative - she was a barren woman. She didn't have any kids. She wasn't going to have any kids. The time seemed long past in which she would ever be able to have kids. She was so old that even her husband, Zechariah, was doubting whether he was still able to have kids. So like so many couples before them, Elizabeth and Zechariah cannot believe the angel when he tells them they are going to have a son.
But Elizabeth, being a woman, carries a much greater burden on this than Zechariah does. She is a barren woman. In her society, that meant that she was a failure of a woman. She was a woman living in shame, and although no one knew exactly what her incredible sin or moral failure was, everyone knew she had one. Everyone knew that it was because of something innate in Elizabeth's character, something despicable and disgusting, that she didn't have children by now. Everyone knew she was not who she appeared to be because if she was even a halfway decent person, she'd have children by now.
Ouch. And not only that, but everyone could see this brokenness every time they looked at her. Oh, there's Elizabeth, the barren woman. Her womb is broken. Her womanhood doesn't work. Her life is full of shame and disease and emptiness because that's all she deserves.
And hey, if God thinks you deserve emptiness, then you probably do. And anyone know thinks that God thinks you deserve emptiness is more than happy to give it to you. (Just look at the way that Christians ostracize whoever it is they think God could never forgive - homosexuals, women who have had abortions, pedophiles, whatever.) This is the life that Elizabeth was living.
She was the woman that everyone looked down on, if they would even look at her at all. She was the subject of so much of the town's gossip. Any time they talked about her, they did so with disdain. Maybe, if she was lucky, a little bit of pity, but that quickly turned because they knew her barrenness was her own fault.
This could only have been made worse by having a husband who lived so openly in the public eye. Zechariah was a priest. He was constantly serving in the Temple. He was always standing before God, declaring the Lord to the people. But...the people knew. The people talked about it. Zechariah was married to a disgusting woman. An unfaithful woman, somehow. A sinful woman. A barren woman. Every time Zechariah stepped forward, he brought this shame on Elizabeth's shoulders - and into her ears - all over again. Her life was just not easy.
And then...she becomes pregnant. And you'd think that that's the end of the story, but it's really just the beginning. Because what happened next is...absolutely stunning. It's breathtaking. It's...confusing. It's not what we would expect anyone in Elizabeth's situation to do.
So what was it? Stay tuned.