Christmas Hope for the Barren (Part 1)

“There was a priest named Zechariah…And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth…But they had no child”

Luke 1:5,6,7

They say Christmas is the happiest season of all, but for many, the joy of this special day remains tainted by a lingering sadness. As it is often celebrated in our culture, Christmas emphasizes families, tradition, and togetherness. For those still awaiting the blessing of children, holiday celebrations often emphasize the emptiness filling the space where little ones ought to be. While others eagerly anticipate Christmas mornings accompanied by laughter, smiles, and childlike joy, those facing the pain of childlessness often struggle to look forward to the day at all.

I imagine that Zechariah and Elizabeth knew all about the pain of spending special days as a couple instead of as a family. For decades they would have participated in holy days and religious ceremonies while surrounded with the presence of children; none of which were their own. During their marriage to one another, Zechariah and Elizabeth had no doubt cried more tears and prayed more prayers over her barrenness than anyone around them would ever have guessed. Yet year after year, their tears and prayers went seemingly unnoticed…until one day when everything changed, and the Lord turned their years of sorrow into tears of rejoicing.

In the familiar story of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1, there is fresh hope for those in the midst of childlessness–hope, not only for Christmas, but for every day of the year.

Blameless, yet Barren

The pain of childlessness is often compounded by the pain of misunderstanding and misconceptions. Although it is one of the most sensitive subjects a couple may ever face, complete strangers often feel no qualms about turning the subject of fertility into small talk. The absence of children is often wrongly assumed to indicate a lack of desire for them and frequently sparks thoughtless comments like “So, how many years have you been married now?” “Isn’t it about time you get started on a family?” “Planning to try for kids any time soon?”  These questions are rarely crafted with ill intent, yet for those unable to conceive, such conversations tear sharply into already tender wounds. 

Things were no different for Zechariah and Elizabeth. Because barrenness was considered a sign of divine disfavor in their culture, gossip and misconceptions regarding the couple’s sinfulness or inferior spirituality would have been commonplace. Yet even though other people may have automatically assumed Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s guilt before God, the Scriptures record them as being righteous before Him. In fact, they walked “blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). They were blameless, yet still Elizabeth remained barren.

Childless couples often agonize over the thought that infertility may be evidence of the judgment of God upon their life, yet in the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, we find that childlessness was not the result of a curse, but a vital component of God’s divine plan for their good and His glory.

No Unheard Prayer

After praying and asking God to answer the same request over and over again, many believers face the temptation to abandon both prayer and service to the Lord altogether. “Surely if God loved me,” or “Surely if He were real, He would have answered my prayer by now”—is the kind of thinking that infects the hearts of those with a shallow understanding both of prayer and the sovereignty of God. Zechariah and Elizabeth, in contrast, continued on believing God’s Word and serving the Lord although they had never seen evidence that He was listening to their prayers for a child.

It wasn’t until this couple was “advanced in years” and Zechariah was busy fulfilling his duty as a priest in the temple of the Lord that God sent Gabriel with the message they had long dreamed of receiving, “Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…” (Luke 1:13). Although this aging couple had probably long ago given up hope that the walls of their home would ever echo with the laughter of a child, they soon discovered that there are no expiration dates on God’s plans. Their prayers had not been ignored; they had been heard! As commentator Matthew Henry says, “Prayers of faith are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten, though the thing prayed for is not presently given.”

Zechariah had probably wondered time and again about the meaning of his own name—“Jehovah has remembered.” After hearing Gabriel’s shocking message that day, Zechariah would better understand not only his own name, but also countless other aspects of his life which had never before seemed to make sense. Zechariah and Elizabeth had not been forgotten, and their prayers had not been ignored. Jehovah had remembered them all along, but He was waiting, waiting to act on their behalf in a way that would clearly illustrate what a marvelous and mighty God they served. And Zechariah and Elizabeth would see, as does each of us when we wait faithfully upon the Lord, that God’s plan was truly worth the wait.

More to come…

Photo: Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

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