She shares my middle name, but not much else. She was the daughter of priests and the wife of one. Most of her life’s years were behind her, though she had no child to take care of her and her aging husband Zacharias. The first thing you know after being introduced to her is that she is righteous in the sight of God, a blameless keeper of all the commands and requirements of the Lord. So it wasn’t her sin that kept her barren, though that’s what most of the market women said. What a shock to have your husband come home from work unable to speak, and then a few weeks later to realize the impossible had happened – pregnancy! But Elizabeth did not question, as Zacharias had, paying for his doubt with silence. She did not laugh, as Sarah had, hiding behind the tent folds. She simply knew he had seen a vision there in the temple. Something, or someone, had appeared in the clouds of incense, and now there was life bulging within her. Of course she could not help but think of the women of the Torah and Writings, women whose empty disgrace had been removed by a miracle. But there were few miracles from God in these days. What could be the occasion of such favour? For five months she kept the secret in seclusion. They were quiet months, anticipating months.
And then in her sixth month, when she could no longer hide the life within, she had a visitor. She had sent word to one of her young relatives that she was pregnant. Mary had always held a special place in her heart. Elizabeth had invited Mary to visit her in her seclusion, but Mary was busy with preparations for life as a married woman. Elizabeth remembered well the days of her own betrothal, sewing for her dowry and dreaming of a home full of children. But then she received a troubled message from Mary, saying her betrothed was threatening to divorce her. Strange things were happening in the family…
When Mary visited as a child, she would always call out a greeting from the gate below the house. This time, when Mary called out, Elizabeth felt a great and sudden movement in her womb, as if the child were leaping up to open the door for Mary. Elizabeth felt the rush of a breeze sweep past her, almost through her when Mary entered. Suddenly she felt like shouting, like dancing for joy. She ran to Mary, grasping her hands and then her flat belly. The words spilled out of her mouth as quickly as her husband’s had been sealed – “Blessed are you among women! And blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how is it that I am so blessed that the mother of my Lord would come to me?”
And with these words, it is Elizabeth who becomes the first prophet of the New Testament, years before her son would prepare the way. It is Elizabeth who is doubly favoured and doubly filled, first with a child in her barrenness and then with the Holy Spirit. In her the first stirrings and kickings of prophecy are felt in Israel, after hundreds of years without the Word of the Lord. She is the first to confess Jesus as Lord, the first to recognize the divine Word in the fleshy womb of Mary. In the flurry of prophetic activity surrounding Jesus’ birth, Elizabeth is singled out, not only as the mother of John the Baptist, but as a prophet in her own right.
Elizabeth. With faith and joy you accepted the work of God in your own life, and were the first to recognize it in others. There are days when my doubt silences me. When I am mute to the call of God at my own gate. I feel my own barrenness, but I fear it is of sin.
Holy Spirit, awaken my heart to the wonders of God’s birth among us. May I be as quick to rejoice at the coming of my Lord.