Mother’s Days for Elizabeth

May 12, 2013

It is a familiar story and one that fits with Mother’s
Day.  A woman who wasn’t supposed to be a
mother becomes a mother.   It is one of
the most familiar stories in the Bible but a story that is over shadowed by
another story and gets lost.  We are all
familiar with the first couple of Chapters of Luke, it is the Christmas
story. 

But the Christmas story didn’t start when the Angel appeared
to Mary, no the story began half a year earlier and 100 kms away. 
Before the angel appeared to Mary and Joseph he had already
appeared in Jerusalem to a man named Zechariah to announce the birth of a boy
who would be named John and who would be a cousin to Jesus.
And the story of John, or more important the story of
Elizabeth is a story that should resonate with most of the women who are here
today. 
So let’s begin our journey 
where our Journey should begin, at the beginning.  Historically we are at the end of four
hundred years of silence in the Story of Israel.  The last recorded words from one of God’s
prophets had been written in the book of Malachi and the people of Israel have
been waiting to be delivered from the various occupiers of their country.  
So let’s start with a little background about
Elizabeth. 
We know who she was, because it is recorded in Luke’s
Gospel, Luke 1:5 In the time of Herod king of
Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division
of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.  
So she was a descendent of
Aaron, who was Moses’ brother.  And it
was from Aaron that the Jewish priesthood was descended. 
And then we read in Luke
1:6
Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in
God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.   Not only was Elizabeth from a
religious family, but she herself was righteous and was careful to obey all of
the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 
She was good people. 

Interestingly enough the
Elizabeth who is mentioned here is actually a relative of Mary, Jesus
mother.  Earlier I called John a cousin
because I didn’t know what else to call him. 
And that’s what he would have been called in those extended families,
when you can’t think of anything else to call someone who is kin you call them
your cousin.  You know if they aren’t
your brother or sister, niece or nephew then they have to be your cousin.
When Gabriel appeared to Mary
at beginning of the Christmas story he reveals this to her,  Luke 1:36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become
pregnant in her old age!
In the King James Version it
calls Elizabeth Mary’s cousin but the word in the original Greek was much
broader than that and simply meant someone who was related to you,
somehow.  And she may have been her
cousin, we just don’t know.  What we do
know is that Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron and we are told that Mary was
a descendant of David’s so whatever relationship was on their Mother’s side of
the family tree. 
However I think if you had of
talked to Elizabeth she wouldn’t have defined herself by her family background
or her behaviour, instead in her private moments I think she would have defined
herself with the next statement in this scripture which says, Luke
1:7
They had no children because Elizabeth
was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.   
Now we really don’t know how
old she was.  Obviously She was old
enough for it to be mentioned, but perhaps because it was in relation to her
child bearing years it was just relative. 
After all in that day and culture when women were married and began
their families when they were in the teens, if you had been married for twenty
years and hadn’t had a child it might be assumed that the baby wagon had passed
you by. 
When we were in Truro we had
two ladies who had children the same time that our daughter Deborah was born,
and in 1987 we thought they were old, they were in their mid-thirties, which twenty
five years ago seemed old to be having babies. 
So we don’t know how old Elizabeth was. 
But we do know that she
experienced the heart ache of not having a child while all of her peers were.
Elizabeth Knew the Heartache of Being Childless  Now understand, not everyone wants
kids.  Sometimes we meet couples who are
childless and we jump to the conclusion that they are unable to have
children.   But that isn’t always the
case, and as a boss of mine used to tell me: The only thing you get from
jumping to conclusions are sore feet. 
Some couples choose to not have children for a variety of different
reasons, and that is fine, that is there decision, it doesn’t make them less as
people and when a woman chooses not to have children, that doesn’t make her
less of a woman.  And I understand that,
some people choose not to own a cat, that I don’t understand.   But I digress. 
But that was not the case with Zechariah
and Elizabeth.  We are told that they
were unable to have children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, as we
progress in the story we discover that this had been a heartache for them.  And it was a matter of prayer, they had not
only done their part in trying to make a baby they had asked God to do his
part, to no avail. 
For people who are trying to
start a family and it’s not working there is an incredible amount of stress and
frustration and eventually heartache. 
Often time’s children have been part of the dream and the plan since the
first doll was held.  For many couples
and even more women it has always been assumed that children would be part of
the equation, and then they aren’t. 
Add to that the cultural
demand, even today, on having children, most couples have been there the
endless questions about when it’s going to happen, throw perspective
grandparents into the mix and the pressure is immense.  And to Zechariah and Elizabeth there was the
responsibility to have a son who would carry on the priestly lineage of their
families.
But it wasn’t working, and
Elizabeth was taking the blame.  Remember
the scripture said that she was unable to conceive.  But seriously, they wouldn’t have known that,
what they knew was that “They were unable to conceive”  but it ended up in her lap and the they
became She. 
I would suspect in that time
and culture if a man married three different women and none of them had
children everybody would say that he was unlucky to have married three barren
women, but really?
If there had of been a Mother’s
Day 2000 years ago it would have been Elizabeth’s least favorite day, it would
have been a reminder of what she wasn’t. 
And I’m sure that there are those who worship at Cornerstone who have
either skipped the service today or wish they had of skipped the service today
for the same reason as Elizabeth, it is a reminder of what they aren’t but
wished they were.
And there is nothing I can say
today that will ease your hurt or make you feel any better about today.    But let me pray for you. 
It seemed that just when Zechariah
and Elizabeth had grown used to the fact that they would grow old together
without children God interrupts their plans. 
Luke 1:11-13 While Zechariah was in the
sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the
incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him.
But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.
Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.
By this time in history there were more priests than there
were jobs for priests, so they took turns working in the temple, good work if
you can find it.  And Zechariah’s turn came
up and he was chosen to enter into the temple and offer the sacrifices and
while he was in there the strangest thing happened. 
He’s doing the things he supposed to be doing, preparing the
sacrifice, getting it ready to be offered, preparing his prayers and the
scriptures he will read as part of the ceremony and God interrupts him, with an
Angel.  I don’t know what angels look
like but they always start off their introductions with the words “Don’t be
afraid”. 
And Zechariah was a little spooked; actually he was a lot
spooked.  After all he was supposed to be
alone in the altar area, there were no windows just lit by flickering torches,
maybe he’s whistling as he worked.  And all
of a sudden he’s no longer alone.  I
don’t think he was spooked because there was an angel there, I think he was
spooked because there was anyone there.
And if we read through the conversation the Angel, who
identifies himself as Gabriel tells Zechariah that his and Elizabeth’s prayers will
be answered and that they will be parents and that their son will do great
things for God. 
And after the angel drops this
bombshell, I mean good news on Zechariah he gets this response; “What?”  Actually that was a rough translation his
actually words were Luke 1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure
this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
My wife is well along in years,
that charitable, love how it is put in the King James Version  Luke 1:18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I
know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.   Guys here’s a Mother’s Day hint, I
don’t think that “well stricken in years” is the most appropriate way to
describe your wife’s age.
You got to love this, for years
Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a son, They had been praying so long it
had become route and I don’t think they really expected it would be answered
and had never stopped to consider what would happen if it was answered, there
would be diapers to buy, a house to be baby proofed and they’d have to get a
baby seat for the camel.
Presumably they knew what
caused babies and presumably they had been trying that particular technique
without success so the assumption would have to be that there would have to be
something miraculous about this.
And to be fair, it may not have
been disbelief as much as curiosity that caused his reaction, he knew the other
way wasn’t working so what was going to change?
If you don’t know the rest of
the story it would appear that Gabriel was a little sensitive about not being
believed because he responds by saying in 
Luke
1:19-20
Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of
God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you
didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the
child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
Boy, do you know where I’d be
if folks still lost their voices when they didn’t believe the promises of
God?  Yeah, preaching to a very quiet
church.
And the story continues. 
Luke 1:14-17 You will have great joy and
gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes
of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be
filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.
Without commentary don’t you
find it interesting how those thoughts are joined? 1) Great in the eyes of the
Lord 2) filled with the Holy Spirit 3) must never touch wine or other alcoholic
drinks, just saying.
Luke
1:57
When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a
son.
Elizabeth Knew the Joy of Being a Mother  At her age I’m sure that she felt the
exhaustion of being a mother and at times the frustration of being a mother but
that’s not where we are going today.  
And if Elizabeth was like most parents she probably dreamed dreams of
what her child would do and what he would be when he grew up. 
Probably
because of his divine announcement John’s mother probably pictured him of doing
great things for God, maybe someday being the high priest. 
If you were
to ask Elizabeth to predict the future of her son it would probably of had to
do with the priesthood.  It was John’s
lineage, his father was a priest and his mother was the daughter of a
priest.  And I’m pretty sure that in
Zechariah’s mind that if his son was going to have an impact for God it would
be through the religious establishment that the family was familiar with.  After all why wouldn’t it be?  My father was a sea captain as was his father
and his father, and there was a natural assumption that I would be as well.  The entire Denn getting seasick on wet grass
didn’t seem to factor in at all. 
The bible
doesn’t tell us anything about John’s childhood, but if he was like most
children he was loved and doted on.  I’m
sure that Elizabeth showed him off at every chance, and probably wasn’t the
least bit sensitive when she was around women who were childless. 
But when John had grown up we
read that he went into the wilderness and when the time was right he appears
preaching repentance, baptising people and telling them that the messiah was
soon going to appear.  Both Matthew and
Mark give us the same description of John. 
Mark tells us in Mark 1:6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and
he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild
honey.
And I’m sure that regardless of
the fact that Elizabeth probably didn’t understand what John was doing, nobody
in their family had ever done anything like that before, that she was one
hundred percent behind him.  She probably
bragged to her neighbors about John and all the people that he baptized. 
We know nothing about John’s
childhood and how his parents raised him and loved him, what we do know is that
Elizabeth and Zechariah were chosen by God to raise John, and God doesn’t do
anything without a reason.  So we need to
assume that it was because of the way that his parents raised him that John was
who he was.  Remember that earlier in the
story that John’s parents were described as Luke 1:6 Zechariah
and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s
commandments and regulations.  Our
children will follow God or not follow God, that will be a decision that they
need to make.  However we have a
responsibility to lay the foundation that they will need to follow God. 
As we read the accounts of
John’s preaching it is evident that the foundation of his faith was well
laid.  It was Abraham Lincoln who said “All that I am
or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” 
We can only assume that John the Baptist would have said the same
thing. 
If there had of been a Mother’s
Day 2000 years ago it would have been one of Elizabeth’s favorite days. 
For those of you who are
raising children, and it doesn’t matter if they are one or a hundred and one
Mother’s never stop raising their children, I would like to pray for you
today. 
But ultimately it would have
been the thing that would have brought Elizabeth her greatest joy, that her son
was serving God, that would cause her greatest pain.
Maybe you know the story of
John and maybe you don’t either way let me bring you up to speed. You will
recall that John had been preaching repentance throughout the country and part
of that was confronting people about their behaviour.  After all unless a person feels a sense of
wrong over their behaviour they won’t feel compelled to repent.  One of the people that John called out was
King Herod, this wasn’t the same King Herod from the Christmas story, instead
it was his son, the King Herod from the Easter story. 
Apparently Herod’s younger
brother, Phillip, had married a woman by the name of Herodias and somehow she
ended up married to Herod.  The
assumption is that she left the younger brother for the older brother.  And John began to publically take issue with
the morality of the entire situation. 
I’m not sure that it bothered Herod that much, he was probably used to
people criticizing him, after all he wasn’t the most lovable tyrant.  But it was getting to Herodias and we are
told that Herod had John imprisoned as a favour to Herodias.  Here was John who had spent so much of his
adult life in the wide open spaces of the wilderness now confined to a prison
cell.  Must have been tough but it would
get tougher.  
But listen to this little
snippet in Mark 6:19-20 So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted
to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless, for Herod
respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him.
Now maybe you know how the story ends for John, you hear
people talk about how immoral our society is, how far we’ve fallen but this
account reveals what life was like 2000 years ago in the society that John and
Jesus were called to confront.
Herod throws this big party for everybody who was anybody
and part of the festivities was a dance performed by his step- daughter.  When the dance was over Herod applauded and
told her “that was awesome, I will give you anything you desire, right up to
half my Kingdom.”  Not sure how the
Romans would have felt about that, but I would suspect that Herod had been in
the bubbly. 
So the girl went over to her mother and had a little girl
talk and she came back and we pick up the story in Matthew
14:8
At her mother’s urging, the girl said,
“I want the head of John the Baptist on a tray!”
Now
that seems a little extreme, and I’m sure that everyone knew that it was the
booze talking but we read in   Matthew 14:9-10 Then the king regretted what he had said; but because of the
vow he had made in front of his guests, he issued the necessary orders.   So John was beheaded in the prison.
Elizabeth Knew the Pain of Losing a Child  and I understand that this is
speculation, that because John was born in Elizabeth’s old age that she had
probably already passed away when John was killed.  But we don’t know that.  We don’t know how old “Old” was in the case
of Elizabeth.  So for the sake of the
sermon let’s assume that she was still alive. 
I can think of no greatest tragedy for a parent than to lose a child, regardless
of the age of that child.  Parent’s
aren’t supposed to bury their children, children are to bury their
parents.  But from the beginning of time
this type of tragedy has happened. 
Perhaps you will remember that one of the first stories in the Bible
tells of how one of Adam and Eve’s sons killed his brother. 
There is a pain that will never
go away and a hole that can never be filled. 
I don’t know every story at Cornerstone but I do know that are mothers
at Cornerstone who have lost children who were in their twenties and thirties
and forties. And there may very well be those here who lost children who never
grew to adulthood.   And I know that there are mothers in
our church family who lost children before they were born, and that loss is
just as real and just as heartbreaking.
The second funeral that I ever
performed was for a little girl who never breathed air and never looked into
the eyes of the two people who loved her more than they could ever say. 
If we believe what we say we
believe about when life begins then they are children and their mothers are
mothers and when we invite the mother’s to come forward at the end of the
service to receive their treats they have the same right to be here as any
other mother. 
And there are those here today
who have lost a child who is still alive, because of strains in relationships
and circumstances that can never be explained there are sometimes chasms
between parents and children that can never be bridged and the heartache is
always there for lost children and grandchildren.  
If there had of been a Mother’s
Day 2000 years ago it would have been a painful day for Elizabeth, a reminder
of all that she lost. 
  
And I wish that I could speak
words of healing into your lives and tell you that someday you wouldn’t grieve
for the child that you have lost.  But I
can’t, but please let me pray for you.
Today we celebrate mothers not
because mothers are better people or better women than those who have never
been mothers but because each of us owes something to our mothers, even if it
is only life.