Almost every year during Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) we study the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah from the book of Luke. Zechariah was a Jewish priest, the highest honor for a Jew at that time. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were said to be “upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (Luke 1:6 NIV). “But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” (Luke 1:7 NIV)
A couple of years ago, I wondered for the first time why a couple who followed God so closely and authentically would have to go through such a difficult circumstance as infertility. To be a barren woman in that culture was shameful. To be a man without a son to carry on the family name was devastating. Here was this upstanding couple, growing into old age, without any descendants to help care for them. Why would God allow such a hardship upon such devoted followers?
Don’t we often ask ourselves the same question? I do. I’m sure you do as well. Why does God allow difficulties, even great difficulties, to fall upon His most devoted followers?
Have you ever asked God a question and then had an idea pop into your head that seems to answer that question? It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does it feels like God personally gave me a new nugget of understanding. On that day I asked God, “Why did Elizabeth and Zechariah have to wait so long to have a child?”
Here is the answer I believe I received from God…”Elizabeth and Zechariah had to wait so long to have a child because they had to wait for Mary to be old enough to give birth to Jesus.” You see, Jesus and John (the Baptist as he is known in scripture) were to be contemporaries of each other. We can speculate that Mary may not have even been born when Elizabeth and Zechariah were married and hoping to begin their family. So they had to wait for Mary to be ready…old enough to conceive a child.
Elizabeth and Mary were relatives. They did not live in the same community, but they knew each other. They each knew that the other was having a miraculous birth…Mary was carrying the Messiah (the hope and dream of every Jewish girl was to one day be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah). Elizabeth was pregnant well beyond the age that is humanly possible to conceive. Elizabeth also knew (through an angel’s words to her husband) that her son would become a mighty prophet who would prepare their people for the Messiah. They were each overwhelmed by their individual miracles. Luke 1:39-56 tells how they came together for an extended visit in celebration and mutual support.
This new nugget of understanding has been a very important insight for me. It has helped me to understand that my time of waiting for something I believe that I need is not always about me. It is not always about my decisions or an opportunity to strengthen my faith (though God can certainly accomplish this as a secondary gain in our time of waiting). Sometimes it is about the perfect timing for another person or group of people. Sometimes it is even about a set of circumstances that needs to occur first. God knew precisely when Jesus needed to enter this world. All the pieces had to be set into place before the events could begin to unfold.
I hope that you can see this nugget of truth in this story as I have. When you are in a tough time or a prolonged season of difficulty, I hope that you will remain strong in your faith that God is always good. That God is forever loving. And that God’s timing is perfect without fail. We almost never see it in the moment, but He often makes it quite clear in hind sight. Our waiting is part of an eternal symphany composed and conducted by the creator of the universe. God directs each performer on each instrument to come in at just the right time to create the most amazing music for all of us to enjoy. Our job is to patiently wait for our time, the exact moment that our heavenly conductor points to us to raise our instruments and contrubute to the symphany. May we each be ready! It is, my friends, a matter of timing!