Monday, December 19, 2011

Luke 1 and 2

Interview with Elizabeth

HADDON: Elizabeth, thank you for joining us here at Discover the Word.

ELIZABETH: I am honored to be here with you.

HADDON: You have an amazing story—in fact, the story of a miracle. Tell us how it started.

ELIZABETH: Well, as a young girl in my early teens I married an older man, Zacharias, who served as a priest in our temple here in Jerusalem. Of course I expected to have children with him—that was the hope and expectation of every young woman in Israel in my day. But it didn’t happen. Year after year after year Zacharias and I kept trying to have a baby—and year after year after year we were disappointed. If you haven’t gone through that yourself, I’m not sure you can know how crushing this was for us.

HADDON: This is a universal problem, isn’t it?  Couples who want children but who can’t have them struggle with that in every generation. Medical researchers today have much more knowledge of infertility than anyone had in your day, but even with that knowledge, many couples remain childless.

ELIZABETH: That’s true. In our day childbearing was viewed as a woman’s highest calling, and it was shameful and a social stigma if a woman couldn’t have a child. And it was assumed that if a woman could not conceive, it was entirely her problem. I believe that in your day people understand that it is the woman who is infertile in a third of the cases, but it is the man who is infertile in another third of the cases, and both are infertile in a third of the cases. That doesn’t ease the disappointment when we are childless, but it helps to know that many different factors keep a woman from conceiving a child.

HADDON: For you and Zacharias the disappointment went on for decades into your old age.

ELIZABETH: Yes, once I had passed the childbearing years and knew that there was no hope of having a child, I accepted the fact.  Then one day an amazing thing happened. I told you that Zacharias served as priest in God’s temple in Jerusalem on a rotation schedule. That day it was his turn to burn incense on the altar of incense inside the temple. Suddenly he knew he wasn’t alone in that holy place. He looked up and there, on the right side of the altar stood an angel from God!

HADDON: An angel from God! That must have been terrifying!

ELIZABETH: Oh, yes. Zacharias was very much afraid. But the angel spoke almost immediately, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Zacharias. God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth . . . He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.”

HADDON: So Zacharias had been praying for a child and God heard his prayer. But the things the angel said about who this child would become . . .

ELIZABETH: That was part of the shock. We would have been delighted to have just an ordinary child, but according to the angel, this would be a very special person. It was hard to get our heads around all that the angel promised.

HADDON: Zacharias must have been overwhelmed with joy when he heard the angel speak!

ELIZABETH: Well, the truth is that Zacharias didn’t really think the promise could be real. He said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

HADDON: That seems reasonable . . .

ELIZABETH: Well, the angel didn’t think so.  He said to Zacharias, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

HADDON: So then what happened?

ELIZABETH: When Zacharias finished his week of rotation and came home, I got pregnant! When I was six months along, another amazing thing happened. I had a young cousin named Mary who lived up north in Nazareth and was engaged to marry a carpenter named Joseph. There, the angel Gabriel visited her with an even more astonishing word from God. He told her that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah. When she asked how that could happen, since she was a virgin, the angel explained how God’s Holy Spirit would bring that about. Then the angel told her about me. He said, “What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age and is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God!”

HADDON: This is quite a story – two miraculous conceptions among relatives. Then what?

ELIZABETH: Almost as soon as the angel left her, Mary began the long journey from Nazareth up in the Galilee down to the hill country in Judea where I lived. When I heard her voice at the door, I was startled that the baby John leaped within me and somehow I was speaking words straight from the Holy Spirit. I said to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored that the mother of my Lord should visit me? You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” I hadn’t even heard Mary’ story yet, and I didn’t know any of the facts about Gabriel’s visit to her, but God gave me those words for her.

HADDON: So here were the two of you together. You’re pregnant in your old age and your teenage cousin is also pregnant by supernatural means. You had a lot to talk about together!

ELIZABETH: Yes, in fact Mary stayed with me for the remaining three months of my pregnancy before she returned to Nazareth. Then John was born. All the neighbors and relatives were thrilled for me, and they assumed that we’d name the baby “Zechariah” after his father. But I said, “No, his name is John!” Our friends argued with me: “There’s no one at all in your family named John,” but I held my ground. Remember that Zacharias had not been able to speak a word since the beginning of my pregnancy. So people used gestures to ask him about the boy’s name. Taking a writing tablet, Zacharias wrote, “His name is John.” And what do you know? Immediately Zacharias could talk again. Can you imagine the astonishment of everybody there that day? They were turning to one another, saying, “What will this child turn out to be?” Everything—everything had been so extraordinary, nothing anyone could have predicted.

HADDON: In the end, Zacharias was able to see God’s hand in all of this in amazing ways.

ELIZABETH: Yes, in fact God’s Holy Spirit gave him words about John. He said, “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.”

HADDON: And we know the rest of the story. Little John grew up to become John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, the Savior of the world.

Elizabeth, thank you for spending time with us here at Discover the Word. You were wise to believe God in the face of the impossible and to embrace his promise against the odds.