Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25, 57-80)
Elizabeth had been anxiously awaiting Zechariah’s return all day. His service as a priest in the Holy Temple had ended yesterday and the journey from Jerusalem to their home in the hill country was not a long one. It was a strange experience for Elizabeth, waiting at home for Zechariah’s return. Most years, when his time of service at the Temple had come, she would journey there with him—spending the two weeks visiting friends and family in the city while he served before the Altar of the Lord.
This year, though, his time of priestly service had landed right in the middle of lambing season. They had spent days wondering what to do before Elizabeth finally declared to Zechariah that she was staying behind.
“Oh, my love,” Zechariah had said sadly, “thank you, and I’m so sorry. I know how much you love being in the Holy City. And on top of that to leave you with the lambing all by yourself.”
“Zechariah,” Elizabeth had said solemnly, “I knew what I was signing up for when I married you so many years ago. Remember, my father was a priest in God’s Holy Temple too. We’ve been lucky these many years; I remember my mother often handling the lambing on her own while my father was at the Temple. I’ll be fine.” She smiled, ruffling her husband’s grey beard affectionately.
That was several weeks ago. Zechariah had departed with the rest of his priestly cohort for Jerusalem, leaving Elizabeth at home to tend their sheep.
It had been a busy lambing season, so much so that Elizabeth had lost track of time. She had only realized the day before that Zechariah’s time of service was up and he would be arriving home the next day. That night, as she lay alone in her bed, she was struck by how quiet the house was. Elizabeth and Zechariah had no children, despite years of trying and praying. When her monthly flow had slowed and finally stopped a few years ago, Elizabeth had been forced to come to terms with the truth, she would never be a mother. After so many years alone, she and Zechariah had largely come to terms with this reality. But on nights like this, when she lay alone in their room, listening to the bleating of new lambs in the stable below, it was hard to hold back the tears. At last, Elizabeth fell asleep—and dreamed a miraculous dream.
Elizabeth was walking back toward the house from the paddock when she caught sight of Zechariah in the distance. Running into the house, she stirred up the fire and placed a pot of water on to boil. Zechariah would be tired after such a long journey, she thought. They could enjoy a cup of tea and some bread while he told all the news of the city.
Smoothing her grey hair beneath her veil, she hurried back outside just as Zechariah and their friend and neighbor, Enoch topped the hill on which their home stood. She hurried forward, smiling and calling out a welcome to her husband and his friend.
Enoch called back a greeting as they approached, but his face was serious. “Strange,” thought Elizabeth, “why does Enoch look so troubled. And why isn’t Zechariah speaking?”
Elizabeth met them as they opened the gate and stepped into the yard. “Zechariah,” she said, her voice now filled with concern.
Zechariah looked deep into his wife’s eye before turning to Enoch and making a gesture toward Elizabeth.
Enoch nodded and spoke, “Elizabeth, let’s go inside. I have something to tell you.”
Elizabeth looked again at her husband, “Zechariah,” she demanded “why aren’t you speaking?”
“Please, Elizabeth,” Enoch said, “let’s go inside and I’ll explain as best I can.”
Stepping inside, Zechariah sat down in his normal seat, while Elizabeth hurriedly prepared three cups of tea, placing them on the table in front of Enoch and her strangely silent husband. She sank into her seat, her eyes filled with worry.
Enoch looked at her and began, “Zechariah cannot speak. He has not spoken since he entered the Holy Place yesterday.” Zechariah’s eyes were locked on Elizabeth’s as she looked between the two men.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“Honestly, neither do I. Neither do any of the priests.” Enoch responded. “The best we can figure, he saw a vision while burning incense on the Altar and God struck him mute.”
“Is he ok?” she asked, turning to Zechariah, “are you ok?”
Zechariah smiled and nodded. He reached out and took her hands in his, his eyes suddenly lighting up with joy.
Enoch watched the two for a moment and then spoke, “I can stay, if you like. He does a pretty good job communicating with his hands, and other than not being able to speak, he’s been strangely happy—elated almost. Whatever he saw or heard in the Holy Place, it must have been something good.”
“Thank you, Enoch,” Elizabeth said, looking into Zechariah’s eyes, “we’ll be fine. You should get home; your family will be expecting you.” Enoch nodded, and bid his two friends farewell, assuring both he would check on them in a day or so.
Once Enoch was out the door, Zechariah leapt to his feet. He grabbed Elizabeth drew her into a tight embrace. Smiling, he stepped back from her. Then he pointed to her, to her belly, and made a motion indicating pregnancy.
Elizabeth looked at him, confused, and almost laughed. “You foolish man…” she began, but her words trailed off as the dream she’d had the night before burst back into her mind. In her dream, she had been holding a child, her son, and a voice had whispered to her the child’s name.
Elizabeth stared at Zechariah. “Did God speak to you?” she asked, “Did God tell you we’re going to have a son?”
Zechariah nodded and smiled again.
“Did God tell you the child’s name?” she asked, her voice shaking.
Turning toward the fire, she scooped two piles of ash into the middle of the floor. Grabbing two pieces of kindling, she forced one into Zechariah’s hand and held the other in her own. “Write it,” she commanded, “write the name and I’ll write the one I heard in my dreams last night.”
Zechariah looked quizzically at her, and then took the stick. Bending down, they each began to scratch out a name in the grey ashes.
Standing, they locked their hands together. Looking down at what the other had written in the ash, they began to weep and fell into each other’s arms.
Written in each pile of ash was John.
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
Sign up to receive the daily Advent meditations via email.