December 7, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 1:24 (NRSV)
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 favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
The season of Advent is a time of waiting. During this season of the year we remember how the people of Israel waited for centuries for God’s salvation through the Messiah. We get in touch with our own waiting for the advent of Christ in the future. We pay attention to different kinds of waiting: waiting for healing, waiting for justice, waiting for deliverance, waiting for reconciliation, and, of course, waiting for Christmas, when we will celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Today we pick up the story in Luke 1 after Zechariah finished his priestly duties in the temple (Luke 1:23). He and Elizabeth went home to an unidentified town in the hill country around Jerusalem (see 1:39). Soon she became pregnant (by natural means, though with God’s help because of her age).
During the first five months of her pregnancy, Elizabeth “remained in seclusion” (1:24). Luke does not tell us why. What he does reveal is what Elizabeth was thinking during her time alone. 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” (1:25).
In the devotion for December 1, I talked about how difficult it was for Zechariah and Elizabeth to have been childless. Not only did they feel the personal pain associated with infertility, but also they endured questions or even criticisms from others because of their childlessness. This was especially true for Elizabeth, because many in her culture assumed that a woman who could not bear children was being judged by God for her sins. As Elizabeth put it, she had endured disgrace, in Greek, oneidos, among her people. The standard Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament translates this word as “disgrace, reproach, insult.” What Elizabeth endured from other people multiplied her own sense of shame and sadness over her childlessness.
Elizabeth’s language reminds us of Rachel, one of the wives of Jacob. Because she had not borne children, she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” (Genesis 30:1). That strong statement reveals the deep pain of infertility for a woman in Jewish culture. When God finally blessed Rachel with a child, she exclaimed, “God has taken away my reproach” (Genesis 30:23). The ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, uses oneidos, translated here as “reproach,” the same word spoken by Elizabeth in Luke 1:25.
Though Luke does not say this explicitly, it’s possible that Elizabeth’s seclusion was related to what she had endured from those who criticized her. Perhaps she didn’t want to be seen in public until the reality of her pregnancy was visible, a sign of her right standing with God. Or perhaps she wanted to make sure that her pregnancy wouldn’t end in a miscarriage, especially given her old age. Whatever the reason, what we know for sure is that Elizabeth “remained in seclusion” for five months. During that time she reflected on her past experience of disgrace as well as her present experience of God’s mercy.
Other than reflecting in that way, we don’t know much for sure about what Elizabeth experienced during her five months of solitude. But we do know, however, that she was waiting: waiting for the child within her to grow, waiting for her pregnancy to be viable and visible, waiting for the time when she felt free to go out in public, and, most of all, waiting for the day when she would give birth to a child.
In her waiting, Elizabeth exemplifies an essential aspect of Advent. During this season of the year we remember how the people of Israel waited for centuries for God’s salvation through the Messiah. We get in touch with our own waiting for the advent of Christ in the future. We pay attention to different kinds of waiting: waiting for healing, waiting for justice, waiting for deliverance, waiting for reconciliation, and, of course, waiting for Christmas, when we will celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.
May the example of Elizabeth encourage you to be intentional about waiting in Advent.
When you picture Elizabeth spending five months in seclusion, what do you see? What is she doing? What is she feeling?
Are you good at waiting? If so, why? If not, why not?
For what are you waiting in this season of Advent, in addition to the celebration of the birth of Jesus?
During the season of Advent, it’s likely that you’ll have opportunities to wait: in line at a busy store, in traffic, in airports, etc. If you’re like me, you find it difficult to be patient when you’re forced to wait. But, this Advent, when you are waiting, even and especially when you would prefer not to be waiting, allow this experience to bring you back to Advent and its themes. Learn more about what it’s like to wait.
Gracious God, thank you for Elizabeth and for the way she exemplifies waiting. I confess that waiting is not something I like to do. Yet Advent is a time for waiting. Teach me, Lord, how to wait. Help me to be still, expectant, and hopeful. By your grace, may I learn to wait with patience, even with peace. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
If you’re like me, even now you’re trying to figure out what you’ll get your family and friends for Christmas. I have a suggestion for you. As you know, my De Pree Center colleague Michaela O’Donnell has recently published a wonderful new book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World. You’ll remember Michaela from the moving set of devotions she wrote in November, based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. I found many things helpful in Michaela’s book, like her ingenious way of talking about calling. Make Work Matter is relevant to all ages, even to third third folk like me. But this book would be especially beneficial to people in vocational transition. I’m thinking in particular of people aged 18 to 35. So, if you’re trying to find the perfect Christmas present for someone in this age bracket, I highly recommend Make Work Matter. You can find out more and order it here.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. An article on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Women Happily Accept Significant Work (Luke 1)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.