Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Keeping the Secret

Yesterday, we introduced the story of Elizabeth, who was a cursed woman. Every aspect of her life was marked by the fact that she never had children with her, that everyone knew right away that she was some kind of sinful, undeserving woman simply because she was barren. And then, something amazing happens - the angel Gabriel appears to her husband, Zechariah, in the innermost holy place of the Temple and tells him they are going to have a child. Not just any child, but a child who will become John the Baptist. 

And then something truly amazing happens: 

Elizabeth doesn't tell anybody. 

In fact, Luke tells us that as soon as Elizabeth found out she was pregnant, she hid herself for five months. Five months. More than half of this pregnancy. Long after she started showing. Long after she was most likely to have miscarried. Well into the time when her pregnancy would seem both obvious and secure. And still, Elizabeth hid herself. 

For five months, nobody knew that she was pregnant. Maybe the townswomen were glad to be rid of her for a bit, glad she wasn't bringing her barrenness around them and their children any more. Glad they didn't have to talk about that or explain that to inquiring little minds any more. Maybe they were glad to have this woman of disdain and scorn out of their sight. Maybe...maybe they didn't even notice that she was gone. After all, since she wasn't a widow, she would not have woven herself into the fabric of the society as a childless woman; she was, and forever would be, an outcast. Or so it seemed. 

You would think that Elizabeth would have run out screaming into the streets about her pregnancy the moment she knew it happened. Certainly, most of us would have. The chance to take the burden of stigma off our backs? We're going to jump at that, every time. We want everyone to know, the second we know it and the instant we can confirm it, that we aren't who they think we are. Especially in a time like Elizabeth's, when this one feature of her life marked literally everything about her. And especially when it was on such public display, as it was with her husband being a priest. 

Yet here we have a Zechariah who can't talk and an Elizabeth in hiding and so for five months, all the people of the region continued to believe that Elizabeth was cursed and disgraceful. And the strangest thing of all is that she just doesn't seem to care. 

She's not correcting them. Now, maybe we could say she was waiting until they could all see for themselves. After all, there are a few months when pregnancy isn't obvious, but we're well past that and she's still not sticking it to them. She's still not rubbing it into their faces. She's still not even telling anyone that she's pregnant. 

Interestingly, the first time she seems to acknowledge that she is pregnant is when Mary shows up and tells her that she heard that Elizabeth is with child (she heard this from Gabriel, when the angel came to visit her). Until that point, no one seems to know and Elizabeth hasn't told them. 

Doesn't that seem strange to you? Doesn't that seem so remarkable as to be almost unbelievable? Elizabeth has within her one simple sentence of truth that would forever dispel all of the rumors and all of the gossip and all of the judgment about her, and she doesn't speak it. 

What in the world is going on here?

There are two important truths at play, and we'll take a closer look at both of them in the coming days.  

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