There are countless sermons about the men involved in the Christmas story like; Joseph, Zechariah, the Magi, the shepherds, and above all, obviously, Jesus himself. There is also an abundance of sermons about Mary, but I would like to look at Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah and mother of John the Baptist. Please have Luke 1 open as we go.
There is so much we can learn from this extraordinary woman of faith.
She lived a holy life.
5 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. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Luke 1:5-7
They were both “righteous,” (“upright” in the NIV), “before God.” There are many, I suppose, who are righteous in the sight of men but not Elizabeth! Unlike the Pharisees and religious leaders of her day whose “righteousness” was often merely an external show, Elizabeth’s was internal, genuine, and noticed by God. She walked “blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”
Not talked but walked. Her belief was matched by her lifestyle in other words, she lived out what she believed. I think that Luke’s description of her as “blameless” is designed to tell us that her barrenness was not due to sin and that also she was not angry with God for her barrenness. Barren, yet blameless, remarkable! For a woman wanting children but unable to conceive, this would have been incredibly difficult. If ever anything tested her faith on a daily basis, it was her failure to bear a child. It would be so easy to become bitter.
It would be so easy to become disobedient rebellious and indifferent toward God, “Why should I worship and serve a God who won’t answer my prayers for a baby?” But not Elizabeth. She knew what the Old Testament said about God being Sovereign over the womb (1 Samuel 1:5, Genesis 29:31) but she still worshipped, loved and obeyed God.
This is some lady. Maybe she looked at all those young mums walking past her daily with their babies in their arms and cried deeply and yet remained blameless.
I am so impressed by her gratitude to God. Her husband, Zechariah, was first to receive the good news but his sceptical response to the angel’s word led to temporary muteness. There’s a lesson here: If Gabriel ever turns up with a message at your house, believe him, don’t argue!
We are told in Luke 1:24-25 that after Elizabeth conceived “she kept herself hidden” for “five months,” saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” There are a few suggestions as to the reason for this act of seclusion. The most likely one is her age but also, she may have experienced a sense of needing privacy over the fact that she had encountered God in such a life changing way, she needed time to reflect upon this and then wait until her pregnancy was established. As far as Elizabeth was concerned, this was no mere physical occurrence but an encounter with God, a visitation of Sovereign love and mercy for which she needed time alone to pray, worship, and above all give thanks to God for what he had done (Psalm 113:9).
Elizabeth’s humility is outstanding which is demonstrated when we look at her encounter with her cousin Mary. Mary’s journey of around 90 miles to visit Elizabeth was motivated by at least two factors. Firstly, her desire to congratulate Elizabeth (she undoubtedly knew of her despair over being childless for so long) and secondly, her desire to share her own good news of Gabriel’s announcement.
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Some sceptical commentators say the emotional trauma of Mary’s arrival caused a movement of the foetus which Elizabeth mistakenly interpreted as a symbolic reflection of her own joy. Pah! No, Elizabeth’s pregnancy is as miraculous as is Mary’s, this encounter was a miracle, as is the whole Christmas story which is one miracle after another. The fact is that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in the womb (Luke 1:15), therefore not only does Elizabeth rejoice for Mary, John rejoices for Jesus. John’s witness to Jesus began not at the river Jordan at Jesus’ baptism but in the fluid of his mother’s womb!
Elizabeth is immediately filled with the Holy Spirit which, in Luke, is typically followed by prophetic speech or praise. But now notice especially her humility.
In verse 42 she acknowledges that Mary is more blessed than any other woman, even more so than she herself. In spite of the marvellous, merciful, and miraculous thing God has done for her, Elizabeth readily admits to the blessedness of Mary as being greater.
In verse 43, Elizabeth is flabbergasted that Mary would visit her. The miracle in her own life has bred no pride. We read nothing along the lines of, “Well, in view of the favour I have found with God, and considering my age it’s only right that you, Mary, should show me a little respect. Put the tea on luv!”
Lastly, let’s not forget that Elizabeth’s son is destined to serve Mary’s. Yet, there’s no hint of rivalry or resentment or the slightest competitive spirit in her. As important as Elizabeth’s son will be, he is, and will be the forerunner of the Messiah, a voice in the wilderness pointing to One greater still.
Elizabeth is a woman of great faith and vision. In verse 43 she refers to Mary as the mother of “my Lord.” By using that statement she is giving evidence of her conscious need of a Saviour and, in verse 45, she confesses that she too, along with Mary, believed that what was announced to Mary would happen. She also trusted and believed in the God of the impossible to fulfil what he had promised.
Let’s finish by looking at Elizabeth’s amazing and willing obedience.
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbours. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea,
66 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.
My name is Nigel, apparently I should have been called John, but my brother got in on the discussion and it got changed to Nigel after an Aston Villa footballer called Nigel Sims. My brother’s name was Dave, or David when he was in trouble. How could he do that? But Nigel it is.
Now if you have been planning for a child for years and years I guess by now you will have some names you like. For those who knew Zechariah and Elizabeth maybe they thought that this miracle child would be named after his father or some prophet from the Old Testament. After all this was their miracle son but Elizabeth remembered what Gabriel had told her husband, “you shall call his name John” (vs 13) just like that! Ok! The surprise of the community could not sway Elizabeth. Violating a custom and tradition on this occasion was not an easy thing to do but Elizabeth, obedient unto the end, declared, “God has given us his name he will be called John.”
People today measure greatness in a variety of ways, usually based on; influence, popularity, wealth, beauty, strength, or some such earthly standard. Elizabeth was an incredible woman, but not for these or any other such reasons. Her greatness was seen in her holiness, her gratitude, her humility, her faith, and her obedience. She is a model not only for women but to all of us. May we all, by the grace and mercy and help of God, embrace the virtues for which she is justifiably remembered in scripture. Thank you Elizabeth! Happy Christmas.