Today the church honors two ancient saints of the faith, perhaps the “Patron Saints of Waiting,” St. Elizabeth and Zechariah, the Parents of St. John the Baptizer.
This feast is honored in Palestine on this date, and honoring them begins to turn our collective faces toward the season of Advent, the season of hope and patience.
Zechariah is the pious priest in the line of Abijah, noted by St. Luke in his first chapter. Elizabeth, whose namesake is the wife of Aaron (the brother of Moses), was also of priestly lineage. This makes it, at least in the ancient world, an ideal marriage: pure and priestly.
By the time of Jesus, there were so many of priestly lineage alive that the duties of the temple were afforded by lot, as not all could participate. One day this privilege fell to Zechariah, as the story goes, and he was ordered to light incense in the Temple. As he was performing his priestly duty, an angel appeared to him and announced that he and Elizabeth would, in their old age, have a child.
By the way, if your Biblical mind isn’t brought back to the aged Abram and Sarai and their son Isaac at the mention of this story, you’re not paying attention…these stories are meant to invoke one another, Beloved.
If your Biblical mind isn’t brought back to Hannah and her son Samuel in the telling of this story, you’re not paying attention, Beloved.
Luke, in writing his Gospel, knew what he was doing with these lovely saints…
Elizabeth, that dear saint, did not, for whatever reason, have any children in her young age. In this way, she followed in the footsteps of Sarah and Hannah before her.
By the way, I note “for whatever reason,” because contrary to popular belief at that time (and even today), we have no biological indicators that note that anything was amiss with Elizabeth’s ability to conceive. Indeed, Zechariah could have had an ailment that prevented him from parenting. But, as with all history written by men, for some reason the fault falls on Elizabeth.
I love Saint Elizabeth, and St. Zechariah, too, because their struggle is so relatable to so many today.
Zechariah had a hard time believing that they could have a child, and for this reason he became both deaf and mute for a time being. This is a strange biological development…much like having a child in your old age would be…but the theological development is pretty clear: some things that the Divine makes possible are hard to talk about and hard to listen to.
Zechariah and Elizabeth named their dear child John, defying tradition. At the naming of their child (Zechariah wrote it down for those present), his voice was restored, and immediately he was blessed with a song that we still sing in the church today during the season of Advent, the Benedictus Dominus Deus. It is a song about promise fulfillment and echoes the Magnificat of Mary and the Hebrew Scripture song of Hannah in 1 Samuel.
St. Elizabeth and St. Zechariah are a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes Diving things take a little while to happen, and that patience and hope must continually hold hands in this life.
They are also a reminder for me that the church needs to openly and honestly talk about the difficulty of conception, a topic so few want to discuss because of its delicate nature. But, Beloved, this is such an important and wide-spread issue, the church must talk about infertility with honesty, and forget with the nonsense of “in God’s time” or any such mess that can be hurtful for those who want to be parents but have difficulty for whatever reason.
Let those with ears to hear, hear.