A blessed Advent to you, friends. In this season, I hope to post a more "regular" post on Tuesdays and a special Christmas post on Fridays. But first, a little introduction. :)
Our God is a God of the unexpected. Certainly in the way He came into this world, as we celebrate this Christmas season, and often in His plans for our lives. At least the path He leads me on is often not what I would have initially desired, though it is always best.
I think the same must have been true for the men and women, ordinary people like us, whom He chose to be intimately involved in His coming into this God-created yet sin-beaten world. Probing what their struggles might have been as they entered a story so familiar to us, but to them completely new, helps me remember that the same God who worked out His plan then and was faithful to them is the God who still reigns and continues to work out His plan today.
So I hope you will join me in a new journey this Advent season, in the spirit of Toward Bethlehem, but going back a bit earlier in the story. As we search out what it might have meant to walk in those human footsteps two thousand years ago, may we more intimately discover and closer follow the same Lord they knew then and we know now.
Part One: Elizabeth
But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish . . . The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness . . .
Some days it’s just too hard.
I watch them leave, still smiling and calling out farewells to each other, these women who came to spend the afternoon with me, to sew and visit—boast about their families and gossip about others.
How they love to complain about their children, and now their grandchildren. Yet the smiles and lift of their chins tells plain that all their complaints merely shield in supposed humility their pride and joy.
And I, left alone, at last give my aching jaw permission not to smile, my face not to beam in supposed welcome.
I latch the door behind me and tread the long-familiar way into the kitchen, my feet heavy with the dull darkness weighting my heart. I want only to climb in bed and pull the coverlet over my head, but Zachariah will be home soon, weary from completion of his temple duties, and wanting his supper.
I draw the bowl of raised bread dough toward me and push my fingers into it. An honor, for him to be chosen to burn incense in the temple of the Lord. An honor, to be his wife.
My vision blurs, and I raise shaking floured hands to my face. Why is it never enough?
The sobs come sudden and hard, as they haven’t for some time—years perhaps. Yet always the pool of grief lies there, if often buried in striven-for submission to the Lord’s will. Then something pierces through, and it wells up fresher than ever.
I drop onto a stool and press my fists to my mouth. Do any of those women with their careless words have any notion what I would have given, all these years, to have even one child? Let alone the tumbling grandchildren?
Do they think I don’t feel their subtle barbs, the veiled disdain for the barren one?
The anguish wrenches my heart, and I groan aloud. Why, O Lord? When we have tried so hard to walk blamelessly in Your commandments? What have we done wrong? Do you hate me so?
No answer. Just the rustle of leaves stirred by a Judean autumn breeze without my open window. And a little bird, opening its throat with trillings and chirps.
The violence of my tears wearies, and I lean my head back with a shuddering sigh, listening to the bird’s song. He doesn’t even know where his next meal will come from, yet he sings. He trusts. As must I. For the Lord has promised not to forget us, not to forsake His people, bleak as the times may seem. Though I gave up the hope of a child long ago, I must not give up my hope in Him.
Even if at times my faith seems as a dried leaf clinging to a sapling’s winter-stripped branches.
I wipe the backs of my fingers across my eyes and heave myself from the stool. The bread—I am late getting it to bake. I must keep on, do the next thing. It’s all I can do. It’s what I must do, even if sometimes it takes all the strength I have and more.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness . . .
I’ve long since nearly stopped hoping He might still fulfill the desires of our hearts, somehow. Yet the ancient words touch me with a stillness as I shape the loaves for the oven. The bird still sings—or is there more than one?—and I step near the window to look.
It is then I see Zachariah, back from the temple, hurrying up the dusty road.
For the rest of the story, read Luke 1:5-25.