I am writing this brief series for anyone who would like to have some material for their prayer or reflection on the meaning of Christ over the Christmas season. This meditation on Elizabeth appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I have added some questions and back-up material.
The case of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist?
She had spread the washing on the rocks to dry. The wind was getting stronger. She had placed stones from the stream on the clothes to hold them down. The other women still kept her at a distance. It was time for a brief rest. Shading her eyes she looked up across the valley to see if he was in sight.
People used to tell her he was God’s blessing. She would smile but kept her thoughts to herself. Zechariah insisted they call him, John. She did not argue … much; but she would have chosen Aaron, an ancestor. John was always wandering to edge of the wilderness. He spent more time there than their house. It was as if it were his home. He had his ancestor’s blood in him.
She worried. She couldn’t relax until she heard him calling her name from the hillside.
Why did the Lord give me this child?
Her mother would have said it was something she ate.
The Rabbi thought it was the devotion of my husband;
he never had much time for women.
Zechariah was clear –
we should not question the ways of the Lord;
we are called to follow in his way.
So I did.
But John has been restless – always;
right from those very first movements within me.
Now he’s unstoppable.
Mary and I used to talk about the future of our children.
She was surer than me.
Jesus; he has a future.
What about my John?
Zechariah saw it all laid out in the scriptures.
He gave a great oration when he was shown to the people.
I remained silent.
We don’t see much of the others now.
When we do, the boys seem to get on well.
But John always comes away, over-excited
and when we get home
he can’t wait to run out to the ridge and
look across to the other side of Jordan.
Lord, if he really is a child of the desert,
keep him safe, I pray.
He has never felt mine.
Only a strange blessing.
I cannot question your ways.
I have been blessed by your unexpected mercy.
This you have shown me:
when you bless us it becomes a gift
for the good of all your people,
but there is always a cost.
Suggestions for consideration and reflection
* Elizabeth gave Mary encouragement and re-assurance – who has done this for you?
* Elizabeth is a background figure, dutifully supporting her husband and knows her son will someday outgrow his background – what emotions might she have experienced?
* Elizabeth was an older mother – why might it have been an ambiguous experience as the meditation suggests?
* The Visit to Mary – what does it suggest about the experience of the two women and their relationship?
Suggestions for prayers of thanksgiving and concern
- Gratitude for surprising outcomes from difficult times
- People who live with unfulfilled longings and needs
- Women who cannot have children through circumstances they cannot control
- People who have gone beyond their backgrounds and left behind misunderstanding and worry
In this series I am wondering what might have happened to the people who appear briefly in the gospel stories and then they are left behind as the story of Jesus unfolds. Sometimes the gospels offer hints; but often they simply disappear from view.
What did the writers want us to learn from their inclusion in their books? Can some imaginative speculation help us explore the affect Jesus had on their lives? These are tantalising questions.
It is not always clear whether we are dealing with people who actually met Jesus or they are creations of the gospel-writers imaginative faith. I believe this is particularly the case in the stories that surround the birth of Jesus. Such as the story of Elizabeth a relation of Mary the mother of Jesus which can be found in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel.
There may well have been an Elizabeth but Luke shapes her story with echoes from the Old Testament. Childless women had a diminished value and were burdened by opprobrium, rejection, suspicion barrenness, the judgement of God. Her story also has a strong connection with the figure of Aaron, companion to Moses from the book of Exodus.
I had both these Old Testament references in mind as I wrote the meditation.
Photo: The Visitation - Elizabeth and Mary Pec, Monastery 14th Century