Elizabeth‘s story tends to be eclipsed by Mary’s, since it’s hard not to focus on the virgin birth. But the barren Elizabeth has a miraculous birth as well, finding herself pregnant well beyond the time to have children.
Remember Elizabeth? Mary’s cousin whom she visited while pregnant with Jesus? Despite living pious and faithful lives, Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, couldn’t produce a child. Then, almost too late in life (like Sarah before her), an angel told Elizabeth she would bear a son who would become known as John the Baptist. Incredulous, Zechariah lost his ability to speak; Elizabeth’s child, yet in her womb, jumped with joy when Mary visited … recognizing the Lord, even before birth.
Barren means more than just infertile; it means unproductive, unfruitful, dull, empty, devoid, lacking, bereft.
At one time or another – maybe even many times! – we, like Elizabeth, can feel barren and unproductive … empty … lacking … bereft. Sometimes, God has reasons for not answering our prayers—or not answering them when or how we want them to be answered. Being human, it’s hard to wait … and wait … and wait … for our prayers to be answered.
So, I could tell you to do like Elizabeth: Go about your daily life and business, loving all the people God has placed in your life, while never giving up your faith or hope.
That would have been a fine and fitting ending to this story.
But the more I read about Elizabeth, the more I find myself riveted on her words of redemption, in Luke 1:25:
“The Lord has done this for me … he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Elizabeth did nothing wrong. In fact, we’re told that she did everything right. Right from the beginning, we learn she was “blameless” in front of the Lord.
Yet her society judged her to be shameful, disgraceful, lacking in God’s grace … as if there were something wrong with her, or that it was her fault she hadn’t conceived and given birth to any children as expected.
Because we don’t exactly conform to society’s norms and expectations, don’t we feel that way sometimes, too?
“Do I deserve this, because of who I am?” we ask ourselves. “Why was I created this way? What should I do now to feel better about myself … and not so barren or empty?”
When I began to come to grips with my own gender identity and sexuality, I already knew that I didn’t make myself this way … nor did I believe that my environment or other people caused me to become the person I am. I regretted that I wasn’t like everyone else: It certainly wasn’t easy to make believe, hide in the closet, and try to deny the person I was meant to be.
Yet because some in our society deemed it wrong, shameful, disgraceful, with an ugly stigma attached to it, I – like Elizabeth — felt barren … empty … unfaithful … and void.
I remember going to a “Coming Out Group” led by a Christian man named Paul. “But … how do you reconcile being gay with all those ‘clobber verses’ in the Bible?” I asked him.
He smiled, oh-so-sweetly, and told me that the God he worshiped loved him … just as he is … and that – no matter what other people might tell me or what could be taken out of context from the Scriptures – it’s really all about grace.
It’s got nothing to do with what we do or don’t do that earns us God’s love and our salvation.
It’s not about rules, regulations, and restrictions that lead to heavenly rewards or rejection.
Nope, it’s all about grace. Even now, I’m still coming to understand and accept the depths of this profound truth.
Being loved by someone whom I deeply love in return helped me to feel somewhat better about myself … yet I still can feel alone, if not so lonely anymore.
It wasn’t until I met God more intimately – not someone else’s idea of God – and spent time in God’s company that I began to truly feel better about being myself … and not quite so empty.
God’s grace and my belief that God purposefully created me to be exactly the person I am has turned my life around—blessing me and making me barren no more. Actually, I have “given birth” to a part of God’s Kingdom in my own personal way.
“The Lord has done this for me … he has shown his favor … and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Each and all of us should affirm these very words now as applying to us, as well!