A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Elizabeth, the Mother of John the Baptist, Joyful Calling

All human beings have dreams-- dreams for themselves, family, and friends. How wonderful it is when dreams come true. Some people have dreams larger than themselves-- a cure for cancer, a final resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. What a great day it will be when cancer can be cured with a pill or prevented with a vaccine. But what must it be like not only to dream for something larger than oneself, but to actually participate in the fulfillment of that dream?

Mary and Elizabeth had a big dream. It was a dream instill in them from the time they could remember. They would have heard the rabbi in the synagogue read the Psalms and the Prophets and expound on the dream that one day, God was going to send his Messiah to deliver Israel from her enemies and reverse the fortunes of God's people. It was a great dream larger than themselves.

And now these two Jewish women, Daughters of Abraham, not only were going to experience the fulfillment of that dream, but in God's grace they would get to participate, to be major players in the drama of God's promised salvation.
After those days his [Zechariah's] 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 favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.'
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord' (Luke 1:24-25, 39-45).
It can be a traumatic thing to be unable to have children, but in Elizabeth's day it carried an additional sorrow-- a stigma-- perhaps God was judging her for something. Barrenness, as it was called, was considered a curse. So, not only is Elizabeth now pregnant, though she is well past the age of child-bearing, but she carries in her womb the one of whom the prophets foretold.

A voice cries out:
'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken' (Isaiah 40:3-5)

It is no wonder that Elizabeth now feels the disgrace has been removed and that she is favored by God. She will be the mother of the Elijah to come (Malachi 4:5; Matthew 11:13-14).

In her encounter with Mary, Elizabeth knows that Mary's child is the central character in the fulfillment of Israel's dreams. "And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?" It would not be surprising that Elizabeth instilled in her son his place in God's plan. He was not to be the One, but he would point to the One. He was not the center of the parade; he was standing by the road to point to the center of the parade.

In this encounter between Elizabeth and Mary, John is already pointing to Jesus while still in the womb. And during his ministry, it his clear that John knows his mission.
"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:11-12).
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented (Matthew 3:13-15).
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized-- John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
Now a discussion about purification arose between John's disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.' John answered, 'No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, "I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him." He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease' (John 3:22-30)
John's knowledge of his mission came from his mother, Elizabeth who received her calling to be the mother of the Elijah to come. She embraced her mission with great joy. She was honored to play a role in the fulfillment of her dreams and the dreams of her people.

Whatever our station in life we need to learn from the example of Elizabeth and receive the calling of God with joy knowing that in all things God works together for good.

No comments: