The Christmas story never gets old to me. To be honest, I never really read it during the rest of the year. Somehow in July, the arrival of the Christ-child doesn’t grab my interest. But when December hits, I always turn to the story again and try to squeeze out some interesting new tidbit, as well as being refreshed by the familiar.
As the pages of Luke unfold, we are told first of the birth of John the Baptist and then the birth of Jesus. John’s parents are introduced to us as Zechariah and Elizabeth.
“They were both righteous before god, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” Luke 1.6
That’s quite an introduction, isn’t it? When people think of adjectives to describe me, I’m pretty sure that “righteous” and “blameless” are not at the top of their list. American? Tennis-lover? Middle-aged? Yeah, those are a bit more obvious.
But Zechariah and Elizabeth we are told are incredibly godly. But then we are told that in spite of their stellar character and deep devotion, life has handed them an unfortunate label: barren.
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Luke 1:7
The shame attached to this station in life cannot be overlooked. Even in our modern-day culture, there tends to be a bit of shame or embarrassment for a couple who is unable to have biological children. But in the first century, this level of shame took on stigmatising, ostracising levels. Many would have blamed them for their condition, attaching the favour of God (or lack thereof) with their barrenness. You can almost hear the gossipy whispers…. “they must have offended God somehow”.
But in a miraculous turn of events, Elizabeth conceives, and she experiences not only the joy of an impending birth, but the removal of the social stigma. Elizabeth declares, “…he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (Luke 1:25)
But what stood out to me this year as I re-read this story, was the incredible maturity that Elizabeth displayed when her relative, Mary, comes to visit. Barely pregnant, Mary journeys to Elizabeth’s home, where she meets her mentor and fellow pregnant mom. Now six months along, we are told that John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrives.
Pregnant for the first time, at a very old age, Elizabeth must’ve been ecstatic to feel the kick in her womb! But not absorbed in her own good fortune, we get a glimpse into what maturity looks like. Remember, Elizabeth has been described as “righteous” and “blameless.”
She didn’t allow her disappointment of barrenness to mar this reputation. And now she will not allow her newfound blessing to distract her either. She remains others-centered, and enters fully into the joy of Mary’s pregnancy, not her own.
…she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Luke 2:42–43
She remained grateful.
She stayed humble.
She saw others.
Elizabeth, a minor character in the Christmas story, leaves us with a major reminder. Regardless of your circumstances, choose to see others around you. Resist the urge to be self-absorbed, and truly enter in to others’ lives.
As you celebrate the arrival of the Christ-child, may you be filled with great joy this Christmas.