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E is for Elizabeth

Today's devotion is written by Marcy Hessinger:

E is for Elizabeth

Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah are the first two people described by Luke in his Gospel [1:5-25, 39-80]. Elizabeth’s name means something equivalent to “God is my oath.”

Who was Elizabeth?

Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist. She is described as a woman who is "righteous in the eyes of God, careful to obey all of the Lord's commands and regulations.” Her husband, Zechariah, was a priest and both were of devout Jewish faith throughout their lives in the Judean Hills. The couple was of advanced age and childless when Zechariah was visited by the angel Gabriel in the Temple. The angel of the Lord informed Zechariah that the Lord had heard his prayer for a son and that the world would receive many blessings from this son. Because Zechariah had disbelief, the angel gave him a sign that this would come to be; Zechariah would become temporarily mute until the day that the child would be named John. (It was customary to name the child after the father.) Zechariah and Elizabeth remained faithful to God and to each other throughout this time, despite the challenges of Zechariah’s temporary muteness.

Why is Elizabeth’s life significant?

During the time that Elizabeth was pregnant, the Virgin Mary was also visited by the angel Gabriel. The angel informed Mary that she will have a child and that her relative Elizabeth (some sources indicate they were cousins), was also going to have a child. Mary wanted to visit Elizabeth (we don't really know why - maybe to see for herself, maybe she herself was afraid, maybe she was worried about being scorned...), so during Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary traveled from Nazareth about 130 kilometers to visit. She stayed with Elizabeth for several months. Mary too, was pregnant and the two women are claimed to have looked after each other physically and spiritually. Elizabeth referred to Mary’s baby as “my Lord,” prophesying the life of Jesus and professing her faith in God’s promises. Elizabeth provided refuge to Mary in her early stages of pregnancy. After a few months, Mary returned home to Nazareth to give birth to her son; the timing of this visit indicates that Jesus and John were likely born about six months apart. This is the last mention of Elizabeth in the Bible, and it is not known how or how long she lived or how and when she died. What we do know is that Elizabeth was a woman of God, related to Mary and connected to Jesus in this way. Elizabeth’s son John, who inherited his parents’ trust and faith in God, would become the forerunner of the ministry of Jesus, leading many people to the Lord, and prophesying the coming of the Messiah.

What can we learn from Elizabeth’s life?

Elizabeth not only heard the message of the angel Gabriel, but she had faith and trust in the Lord’s promises. She never underestimated God’s miracles or what God had in store for her and Mary; she lived a life dedicated to God. Just as John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus, I believe that Elizabeth paved the way for Mary; both women had received miracles from God, and Elizabeth modeled for Mary how to accept them and remain faithful and humble - not boastful or entitled. In this very different 2020 Advent season, I consider our world’s challenges and pray for each of us, as Elizabeth showed us, to find the courage and strength to listen to and have faith in God’s promises, to pave a way for others, and view each day as a blessing and gift.

-Marcy Hessinger

The background painting is from "The Visitation," by Domenico Ghirlandaio