St Luke 1: 1 – 24
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’
In Sunday School, one of my favourite songs was: “What the Lord has done for me, I cannot tell it all… He saved me and washed me with His blood!” Part of Elizabeth’s statement in verse 25 reads: “…what the Lord has done for me…” That is a statement of gratitude, expressed by someone who wholeheartedly celebrates God’s great goodness. This is confirmed later in the same verse. “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of not having children.” Elizabeth experienced a life changing encounter with God, and became a prime candidate for telling others what the Lord had done for her. Being childless in that era was considered a curse from God; a punishment for sin. Likewise, it meant the married couple would have no legacy – no continuation of their family line. As a result, women shouldered an outsized social stigma when they could not bear a child. Here the text makes clear that Elizabeth, and her husband Zechariah, were blameless.
Do you see and hear what Elizabeth is saying? It is rare to hear this statement preached on. We often quickly delve into the story of the birth of John the Baptist. Of course, his birth is miraculous, and moreover it parallels the supernatural birth of Jesus. Two grand narratives for Christmas. “This is what the Lord has done for me.” Elizabeth is talking about her pregnancy. But this is not the only thing the Lord has done for her. If you look at the story, you will notice that the hand of the Lord is evident in her life way before this.
What lesson can we learn here? As Christians we cannot be quiet about what the Lord has done for us. Lesslie Newbigin talked about the Gospel as public truth. We have heard and seen – truly to hear and see – so go and tell, “This is what the Lord has done for me.”