Every second Sunday evening our church has a contemporary worship experience that we call Jacob’s Well. Named for the story of Jesus meeting a woman at Jacob’s Well and telling her of her own sordid past, the time of worship intends to extend the same grace that Jesus did to the woman. The majority of the evening is spent in song; however, Scripture, video, sharing, and theatrical pieces often add to the experience.
At the December edition of Jacob’s Well, a member of our church presented a narrative from the perspective of Elizabeth, the older cousin to Mary the mother of Jesus, who was John’s mother. According to Biblical accounts, Mary spends some of her pregnancy with Elizabeth whose son would later not only prophesy about the Messiah’s coming but also baptize Jesus and hear God’s voice proclaiming Jesus as His son. What follows in the script that details the monologue of Elizabeth. Full version can be found at the Back to the Bible website.
Barren….If there’s one word a woman in Israel doesn’t like to hear, it’s barren. Oh, you can’t imagine how sad that is unless you share a belief that the blessing and power
of God are made known through a couple’s children. And their children’s children.
It was equally hard on my husband, Zacharias. When a man in Israel has no children, how can he testify to the faithfulness of God to all generations? Especially when so many had begun to question if God would ever speak to us again. 400 years since we had supposedly last heard from Him. Could it be that God had never been for us after all? What about the promised Messiah? Would he ever come? Could it be that God was a mere myth?
My husband is a good man – a priest descended from the family of Abijah. My family also were priests from Aaron. In our house we have always been careful to do all that God’s Word commands. Hadn’t I done all that God had asked of me?! And yet, I was barren. If children are a blessing then barrenness must be a curse. What was wrong with me? The questions never went away even as I became an old woman.
One day when Zacharias was offering incense in the Holy Place the angel Gabriel appeared to him. He told him my barrenness would soon end and we would have a son – John. He would come in the spirit and power of the great prophet, Elijah, and be used to turn many of our people back to God. I know, I know – every mother says her son is special. But not every mother gets her news from Gabriel! And so, I devoted those long quiet days to God.
Then, in the 6th month of my pregnancy, my young relative, Mary arrived from Nazareth with news that she was pregnant! For half a moment I imagined the worst. But then my John gave me such a kick that the realization broke on me in a wave of bright wonder. Mary’s baby was the Messiah!! “Oh, Mary!” I cried. “How blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Mary already knew about our baby, but I told her everything again and she told us of Gabriel’s visit to her. What a gift that she would bring God’s greatest blessing into the world! I was carrying the forerunner. And Mary was carrying Savior!
What a contrast Elizabeth and Mary would have been at a family dinner! One had been barren for years and now with child while the other was much younger and not even married yet. I am pretty sure that knowing glances, low whispers, and a lot of discomfort would have reigned around that dinner table. But they had each other, and they each had been blessed beyond our ability to imagine.
I had a lot of thoughts and questions as I listened to my friend share this narrative. Does our society treat “barren” women in the same way? What a word – barren. Is the same stigma appropriated to couples who struggle with having children now that was then? I can only imagine that it must feel the same way now that it did then. The words - “If children are a blessing then barrenness must be a curse. What was wrong with me?” – are those not the same words that men and women who desperately want a child whisper to themselves? Elizabeth had to wonder. Modern medicine gives us answers. When we ask the same questions now, “What is wrong with me? Why isn’t this working? My sister has a baby…” there is often a medical answer which is often followed by many medical treatments, hopeful months, and times of loss and fear. Or perhaps it is followed by joy. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer even though we are 2,000 years and many medical advances later.
Other thoughts – I wondered if Elizabeth would have been able to greet Mary in the same way if she had not become pregnant with John prior to Mary’s arrival. Did she need her own miracle in order to celebrate Mary’s miracle? Or was she amazing? Could she have celebrated with her younger cousin and accepted her situation for the miracle that it was regardless of her own feelings and circumstance? These are questions that I likely will not have answers for until heaven, and by then – I probably will not care anymore. And it probably does not matter.
As I listened to my friend share this perspective, I did wonder how we can be more sensitive to couples who want a child but are unable to conceive. And how can we help to carry their load of pain and anguish? And how can we, as a society that still puts a lot of weight into having “your own” children, change our language and our ways of thinking to be more sensitive in this area?
Image of Elizabeth and Mary found at the following website http://mommyonfire.com/2011/12/07/friendship-the-elizabeth-and-mary-way/ and is titled “Mary and Elizabeth” by Corby Eisbacher.