Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Meditations on Elizabeth and Zechariah, Part I

This is from an Advent Quiet Day I co-led on December 3, and will be the first of a series of four brief blog posts reflecting on Luke 1:5-25, 57-80.  

I remember when I was a little girl growing up in a very protestant church wanting to be the Virgin Mary. Everyone did. She had the best costume at the pageant, she was the Mother of Jesus, she was presented as perfect in every way.

I do not remember ever wanting to be Elizabeth or Zechariah.  

So it came as a real surprise to me six years ago when I was reading the story of the Visitation between Mary and Elizabeth at a weekday Eucharist and it suddenly struck me that I identified much more with Elizabeth than with Mary. I was not a virginal teenager who found it miraculously easy to get pregnant. I was 30, an unhappily childless woman, who was married to a priest.  

If the story of Mary is the story of God’s presence and hope with youth and impetuosity and optimism and wide-eyed excitement, Elizabeth and Zechariah tell the story of God’s presence and hope among those of mature faith, skepticism, and who thought they were so far down a certain path that they didn’t realize they could change.  

And this is where the Gospel begins—in Luke at least. Elizabeth and Zechariah are where Advent begins. They are the preparation for the preparation, if you will… before Jesus comes John; before the annunciation to Mary comes the annunciation to Zechariah. Before the comparative privacy of Jesus’ birth in Luke (where there are shepherds, but no magi) there is the very public birth and welcoming of John the Baptist.  

So what does it mean that Advent, the season of waiting and expectancy, the season when hope is born anew in us, begins with Elizabeth and Zechariah? 

How often do we dismiss creative and interesting and faithful ideas because they are “impossible”? It’s one thing when you’re 23 to join the Peace Corps or something and dedicate your life to serving others for a season, but I know that I’m certainly at a point in my life where as much as I might aspire to spend a year or two in Tanzania or feel it would be worthwhile to become a military chaplain or any of the other life-altering dreams I might have, it’s very easy to dismiss them because of my other commitments: my husband, my parish, my child, my pension. Zechariah and Elizabeth are mature, responsible people making a huge change. It’s a positive one, in many obvious senses; as Elizabeth says, to finally bear a child takes away her disgrace at being barren. But it cuts through happy routines as well; I’m sure Zechariah was not able to serve in the temple while he was mute for 9 months; and the birth of John, and his upbringing in the wilderness, pull Elizabeth and Zechariah away from the center of established temple life and towards the fringe of the people of Israel. If the great praise of Mary is that she “said yes” to God; it is even more impressive that Elizabeth and Zechariah say “yes”, because they had more to lose. The call of God is not just for the young, or those who have time, or for those who don’t have anything else to do. God calls us in the midst of our “important” work and not just when it is convenient. 

Question: What new path might God be calling you to walk on that you thought it was too late for—or that seems too impractical?

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