Elizabeth was the wife of Zechariah the priest, whom we heard about last week. She shockingly became the mother of John the Baptist long after such a thing would be possible, as she was, as Zechariah put it, "advanced in years". She was related by marriage to Mary, who became the mother of Jesus, in another shocking twist, although shocking in a different way.
In looking at Elizabeth, we need to look at her as we need to look at ourselves—as an individual, and as she relates to others.
Her deep desire to have a son is finally answered, and she is pleased and grateful. It turns out that this son will be important in what she has long also desired, the restoration of Israel after hundreds of years as a nation ruled by others. On a personal level, both of these things are deeply satisfying, and God's gifts. And she feels both of those things, the deep satisfaction for herself, and the undeniable conviction that this is indeed God's doing--her awareness of her faith tradition affirms for her that the few times that women of her "advanced years" have been given the gift of a child, that it was God's doing, for God's purposes. Sarah (Isaac's mother) and Hannah (Samuel's mother), the others whose experience reflects hers, had sons who were important in God's plan for God's people, and so will her son John be. So for herself--a gift, and for others--also, a gift.
Then, as women will do, she goes to visit Mary, who is also unexpectedly expecting, and whose son will also be important in God's plan for God's people--with the recognition that "God's people" will end up being more than just those in her own faith tradition. As she visits Mary, the baby in her own womb leaps for joy, and Elizabeth recognizes yet again that God indeed has some interesting and important stuff going on. She herself won't get to see it, as it turns out, but as someone able to look beyond herself to others, she still experiences that joy. The special bond these two women share, their mutually shared joy, is finally not just their private experience. What they are a part of has implications for the rest of human history, and clearly--since we read about them in this story from the Bible--it doesn't stay a private sharing between two women related by marriage.
We have much to learn from Elizabeth, especially at Christmas. We can get so caught up in the gifts we'll receive that we can lose sight of the gifts we give to others. And we can get so caught up in the gifts themselves, received or given, that we can lose sight of how they keep on giving, not only to us and the ones we give them to, but to others beyond.
God works in mysterious ways. We may find that the chance encounters we have with another person end up making a difference in the lives of many. God does seek to bless us, and answer our prayers, but all too often it's not just "us" who are blessed by those blessings and those answered prayers. If we don't see that, perhaps we need to take another look at how God's love for us is to be lived out in love of neighbor.
GOSPEL Luke 1:5-7, 24-45
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. 39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”