Since the Wise Men didn't visit Jesus and his family until he was 1-and-a-half or 2-years-old, we're not going to talk about them. Instead, we're going to talk about three wise women of Christmas.
The first, obviously, is Mary. She was wise beyond her years for all kinds of reasons. There is also Anna. Here's what Luke 2:36-38 says about Anna:
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Those are both marvelous pieces to the Christmas story. I realized we could spend one Sunday on each of them. But for our purposes, they will be the background voices as we examine the place of the third wise woman, Elizabeth, in the Christmas story.
Herod was the king of Judah. Judah was the southern kingdom, of which Jerusalem was the capital. When Herod was the king of Judah, there was a priest named Zechariah. Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were righteous and godly people. The Bible says, "Their lives pleased God." There was one thing they lacked, though. They had no children. Elizabeth was unable to conceive, so now they were old and childless.
Let's look at what Luke says about Elizabeth:
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
- Luke 1:5-7
There are a few important things we learn about Elizabeth. She was strong. She was a woman after God's own heart. She loved her husband. Verse 6 says her life pleased God. That is a great thing to be said about someone. I hope that is something that can be said about your life. You are a godly man. You are a godly woman. What a wonderful thing to say about a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
We know Elizabeth was a godly woman. We also know she was carrying
around a lifetime of hurt. Verse 7 says Elizabeth and Zechariah had no children. Now, some people choose not to have children. Some people choose not to marry. People make choices about what's appropriate for their lives. The heartache comes for those who want to have children but can't. That's Elizabeth. Her whole married life, she wanted a child. She was pleasing to God. She was a woman of character and integrity, but the hurt and heartache remained. Her greatest prayer went answered.
Have you known heartache and hurt in your life? Have all your prayers been answered?
Elizabeth had every opportunity to get bitter. How many times, when people react bitterly to heartache and pain; how many times do we say, "I understand why she feels that way? I understand why he feels that way?" Elizabeth could have gone through the laundry list of everything she had done for God throughout her life, and still no answer to her prayer for a baby. She was now old. Definitely post-menopausal. It must have been tempting to be resentful about her misfortune. But Elizabeth wasn't. Here's something you might want to write down:
You can trust God, or you can get mad at God.
In her wisdom, Elizabeth didn't get mad at God. And so here's the gospel
point. Living for God does not guarantee you a hurt free life. If anyone has it in the back of their mind that living for God is going to give them a carefree life, then I can say with full confidence that they have a superstition, not faith. God's Word never promises that everything's going to happen the way you want in life. Life here on earth is not heaven. In heaven there is no sorrow or sighing or pain or hardship or grief or sadness. None of these things are in heaven. Life is hard at times. We sin.
We sin. People sin. So expecting heaven on earth is always going to lead to disappointment. And disappointment is always rooted in unrealistic expectations. Are you with me on that? Nothing in life is perfect. In one sense, we're living through that truth right now. There is no such thing as a pain free life. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble." Not might. But you will. So we shouldn't be surprised when things don't go our way or turn in our favor. Elizabeth wanted a baby, and it didn't happen.
Now look at what happens beginning with verse 8:
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
Have you figured out who Elizabeth was? She was Mary's cousin, the mother of John the Baptist. And what did John the Baptist do? Right…he was born to make way for the Messiah. He was born to announce the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. See how deeply woven God's sovereignty is into people's lives.
So, what did Zechariah do when told by the angel Gabriel about Elizabeth? He didn't believe, although in a polite way. Zechariah said of himself, "I'm old." But of Elizabeth he said, "She is advanced in years." He was very kind in his choice of words. Yet he doubted. What was to be joy and gladness was turned into silence. How sad.
But Elizabeth was different. Their prayers were answered. Even after they were physically unable to conceive, she kept praying. What does that tell
you about persistence in prayer? Even as she got older, she prayed.
And then came the pivotal moment. Gabriel said that everything that would happen would happen at just the right time. Elizabeth understood God's timing better than her own timing. She knew what it meant to wait on God's timing. You can tell by her response that Elizabeth trusted God's timing. That's a wise woman.
We pick things up at verse 21:
And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
- Luke 1:5-25
What did Elizabeth do when she became pregnant? She went into
quarantine. She self-isolated. She knew the risks. While it would be hard to blame her if she got out-and-about, she knew what was best for her health and the health of her baby, so she remained housebound. Wise woman. And in those early months, she kept praising God. God is good all the time…
We now jump ahead to verses 57-66:
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
What a beautiful story. Miracle upon miracle. Elizabeth, wisely trusting in God. God working his saving will to completion, despite the stubbornness of Zechariah.
Elizabeth wisely understood the delay. God's plan was bigger than
Elizabeth's. Through Elizabeth and Zechariah God was going to bring the forerunner of Jesus Christ into the world. Can you imagine. In God's time. John the Baptist couldn't have been born 20 or 30 years earlier. This was the time. This was the place. These were the people. And Elizabeth got it. She understood it.
Here's the point. A delay is not a denial. The difference between a wise person and a foolish person is knowing the difference. There's a huge difference between "no" and "not yet." Just ask any child, except they think "no" and "not yet" are the same things. It's only as you mature that you gain the wisdom to know the difference between "no" and "not yet."
All her life Elizabeth had been praying for something that didn't happen. Maybe you've been wanting and praying for something to happen in your life and it hasn't happened yet. Whether the specific thing you're waiting for happens or doesn't happen isn't the point. The point is God is working in your life. You simply need to be patient. You need to trust in God. Here's something you might want to remember:
God's definition of what we want and need is sometimes different
from our definition of what we want and need.
Therein lies the choice Elizabeth made. This is what made her a wise
woman. Here's the last thing you might want to write down:
Elizabeth chose to trust God instead of being bitter.
What are you tempted to be bitter about? Let no root of bitterness take hold in your life. Jesus said, "Trust in God - trust also in me." Trust God and His plans for you even when it doesn't make sense…even when it hurts…even when you can't seem to figure anything out. Trust in God - trust also in Jesus.
Mary, Anna, and Elizabeth were wise women because they trusted and walked with God through all things. Of course, they all had heartaches. We knows about Mary's. We've just learned about Elizabeth's. Anna was a widow who spent most of her life without any family or relatives. They all three could have chosen resentment. They could have chosen fear. They could have chosen grief. Instead, they chose to trust God's plan instead of being bitter. They believed God's Word instead of their fears. They chose to focus on God's presence, not their loss. Will you choose their wise path?
Jesus Christ, we open our hearts to you. We thank you for filling
our hearts with your love, and you peace, and you purpose. We want to know more of you. We want to grow in our love for you. We want to learn to trust you more. Today, we accept you as God's Christmas gift as our Savior. Thank you for making us a part of your forever family. We humbly ask these things in your name. Amen.