This is the second of a four part series on the women of Christmas.
Elizabeth had to deal with two major challenges in her life’s journey. One came from within, the other from outside. Although her story centres on her being, or not being, a mother it is vital that, as you read her story, do not make the same mistake as was made in her times, namely, to define her by literal motherhood terms exclusively. While it is true that Elizabeth’s story carried the theme of bearing a child it is, at the same time, about being valued.
In her day, Rabbis taught that seven people were excommunicated from God and the top two on the list were “A Jew who had no wife, a Jew who has a wife and has no child”. As you saw in the first piece in this series, childlessness was considered valid grounds for divorce.
There is a famous quote from another Rabbi who said he thanked God every day that he was not born a gentile a slave or a woman.
Elizabeth grew up in a context of chronic undermining of a woman’s value, coupled with an identification of her value in narrow domestic terms (marriage and motherhood). Don’t press delete just yet! I am not criticising the intrinsic value of marriage or motherhood either, I am observing that Elizabeth had to contend with many male messages as well as cultural challenges.
So how did she experience life? Undoubtedly there would be large moments of sadness. She would carry a sense of disappointment, unfulfilled hopes and dreams, a denial of a longing in her heart. She had reached a point in her life where what she had hoped for now simply could not happen.
This set up inside her a struggle to value herself. Rather than press delete press pause and reflect on how many women today feel a sense of sadness and disappointment. What she had hoped for has not happened and it looks like the moment has passed.
There are a number who read these words and can identify their disappointment in work terms. I gave up my career for my children, they left home, they are moving on, I am not. Others may say I gave up my prospects of a family in order to pursue my career and I wonder was it worth it? Still others say I pursued it all; lost out on both, feel exhausted. To be fair there are some, also, who have found contentment.
Whatever the inner voice, there are also the outer voices, the ones that say you should do/be this or should not do/be that. These voices speak into your soul and touch on areas of guilt, shame and defensiveness.
Elizabeth would have found herself questioning whether her childlessness was a curse, a judgement or her own fault. The outer voices certainly looked for someone to blame.
Today’s women face these outer voices, not just male, which pass judgement on their choices creating impossible and insolvable dilemmas inside their souls leading to self shaming and sadness.
It is interesting that the key male voice in Elizabeth’s world was silenced through her whole pregnancy! Her husband had doubted and, as a result, was muted. His role was to love, her not speak words of doubt until the moment came for him to speak the name of their surprising son.
There in those two words “surprising son” you find transformation, for it was Mary’s surprising son who caused Elizabeth’s baby to leap in her womb.
If you can stand back a little from Elizabeth’s story you will see that she represents the truth that every woman wishes to give birth, not only to a baby, wonderful though that is, but to a life. She wants to create a life that means something is valued, not hallmarked by sadness or shame. Her Christmas shows you that an angelic visit that brought hope, silenced the voice of doubt, surprised her in her journey. Her Christmas story was already growing within her when she received a visit from Mary. At this point what was within her, leapt. These are not just literal truths, they are that, but they are images of how God works.
Elizabeth’s childless life was not meaningless, the Rabbis were wrong, it was not even her fault, it was simply her path. The fact that she was not a bitter person shows you her noble soul. It took surprise after surprise for her to arrive where she was but it should not surprise you that someone who was described as upright, righteous and blameless should find a leaping life inside her in the autumn of her years.
This was a woman who had refused to listen to the inner negative voices, was granted silence from the outer doubting voices and gifted with last words of joy.
“No, he is to be called John” are the last recorded words of Elizabeth in the Bible. In that quote “no” contained a refusal to accept tradition, a stand of faith and an image of fulfillment.
Luke 1:1 – Luke 2: 40
60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
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