Six months before the Angel Gabriel to earth came down, as the story goes, he was hanging out in Jerusalem, visiting with Zechariah. Zechariah and Elizabeth were much older than Mary – which is not to say that the young don’t suffer – but Zechariah and Elizabeth had reached that point where a lifetime of small defeats had created a habit of disappointment. They weren’t even sure they wanted to hear good news: hope takes too much effort.
So Zechariah dissed and dismissed the angel, and Elizabeth went into hiding.
I think that most of us recognize that instinct to protect ourselves from further disappointment by closing ourselves off even to hope, even to good news, even to joy.
At the end of their story, the child is born, and Elizabeth is finally able to share her joy, her hope, herself with her neighbours, as they all gather to celebrate this new life. And Zechariah is restored, able to speak once more once he affirms the angel’s message: his name will be John.
It takes a while. It takes about nine months, but this is the miracle hidden within the miracle of the angel-announced child: that Zechariah and Elizabeth are restored to hope, to community, to risking sharing good news with their family and friends. It is an extraordinary turnaround for a couple so sunk in the habits of disappointment. It is a miracle.
It takes a while, and that’s ok. God doesn’t take away the miracle from Zechariah for disbelieving. The angel just makes him hold his tongue for a while until he has something positive to say. God doesn’t punish Elizabeth for hiding herself away. God the father and mother of us all knows the tenderness of expectation.
Most of us will not receive a visit from an archangel in our lifetimes (although some may). But that hidden miracle of hope is one that God extends to all of us, gently, tenderly, waiting as long as takes for us to find our way out of our dark seclusion and blinking, into the light.
It can be hard, it takes effort to break the habit of despondency, to risk investing in hope once more, to allow ourselves to feel connected to those around us, to share their joy.
But God is patient. God comes to us time and again, reaching out, understanding our helplessness, as an infant in the manger; our hurt, as he is rejected and betrayed; our grief, and our death. Christ reaches out, even after the cross is taken down, from the depths of hell, leading us out of that place into one of new life.
He will wait as long as it takes, nine months or ninety years, offering hope, offering to carry it with us, if only we will risk his loving touch.
And so we come together, to share the hope that we harbour in our hearts, to hold hope out to one another with our prayers; to lighten the season for one another with the love of God shared between us, offered time and again by Jesus.
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