Written your Christmas letter yet?
I’ve written one this year- the first in at least 20 years or so, but it’s not really from me this time around. A month or so ago, my minister friend and colleague Matt asked a few of us to write holiday letters as if we were one of the characters from the Christmas story. He wanted us to share it in the combined adult Sunday school class during Advent. He suggested Elizabeth for me. You know Elizabeth, don’t you? She’s the over the hill distant cousin of Mary who finds herself pregnant with Baby John (the Baptist) which is crazy since SHE IS SO OLD!
Thanks, Matt. Thanks a lot.
No, seriously, thank you, Matt! I had such a great time playing around with this letter!
I thought I’d share it, since we’re snowed out at church. Enjoy!
Holiday Greetings from Elizabeth and Zachariah!
Happy 4 BC!
It’s Elizabeth here. I know Zachariah usually writes our New Year’s letter. But after battling a bad case of writer’s cramp for nearly a year, he swears he’s never picking up a quill again. (I’ll fill you in on that in a second.)
I hope this letter finds you reflecting on your own mysterious moments of 5BC with a nice glass of wine and somebody you love.
It’s a funny thing how twelve months can flip your life upside down. I’m happy to give you all the details of the wonderful weirdness brought to us by the year gone by, but I warn you, you’d better sit down. Roll out a rug and have a seat on the floor.
The newfound craziness of my life started on an ordinary work day for Zachariah about a year and three months ago. (Which explains the lack of a letter last winter. Sorry about that.) You know my Rye-Rye. He was busy in the temple, keeping things neat and tidy. Cleanliness is next to Godliness- that’s my husband! The locusts had been bad that season, getting everywhere, and the man cannot stand bugs, even though I always tell him that God created them too, and they’re not that bad– especially with a little salt and hyssop!
Anyway, Rye drew the short straw when it came time to send someone into the sanctuary to light the incense, so in he went. Incense duty is an honor, I get it, but I keep telling him that he needs to let somebody know about his allergies! He doesn’t want people nosing around in our genealogy, trying to figure out who committed what sin when. I love God too, so I understand. But I also love my husband. You know how dutiful he is. “What’s a little wheezing when it comes to God?” That’s Zachariah.
As Rye got the smoke going, everyone stood around praying outside as usual. He says that the priests always pray to experience the presence of God, for God to come close, to feel God’s breath, but no one really expects him to really show up! You won’t believe what happened! I can hardly make my fingers write these words, but I promise you it’s true. An angel appeared to him! A messenger from God! Right beside the altar! To my Zachariah!
Of course Rye was terrified, but the angel told him not to be afraid. He told him a whole list of things, the most shocking of which was the news that after all these years, I WAS GOING TO HAVE A BABY!
ME! AT MY AGE!
You may have already guessed this, given my sloppy handwriting…It’s hard to hold a baby and a quill at the same time. Or maybe given my age, you thought I had had a stroke!
But no, it’s a baby. It really happened!
Yes, you read this correctly. And yes, I know how old I am.
I’ll get back to the story while you catch your breath.
The angel said that the baby would be a boy and that we were to name him John, and he is going to be great in the sight of the Lord. (I promise I’m not trying to write a braggy letter here- it’s just what the angel said!)
He also told him that the baby will be filled with the Holy Spirit EVEN BEFORE HE IS BORN (what would that mean for me?- I had no idea!) He said that with the spirit and power of Elijah, our baby would turn people to wisdom and prepare the way – and prepare the people for the Lord!
Really! Again, No brag, just fact!
Now I love my husband, I really do, but answer me this. If God’s messenger came to you, and told you all those things (REMEMBER IT’S A MESSENGER FROM GOD!) what would you say?
If it were me, I have to think that I’d say something like, “Thank you, angel. Whatever you say! We’ll do our best to raise him right.” And then maybe I’d add in, “Give my best to God!”
But what does my husband say, bless his heart?
Rye said, and I quote, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”
How will I know that this is so? Can’t you just TRUST a messenger from God?
The angel says to him, and rightly so, “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.”
So that, my friends, is why I’m writing this letter. That’s why he’s had to write out every single thought he wanted to share for over nine months! That’s why my love got writer’s cramp. That’s why he’s put the quills down for good!
And that’s why we have a baby!
It’s a mystery how it happened.
Okay, well not really a mystery- I know how this kind of thing happens, hahaha. I love the man dearly, and I have to say that after thirty some years of listening to him drone on and on- bless him- there was something new I found oddly attractive about him—the way he looked at me, now quiet, not a single SAT vocabulary word coming out of his mouth.
But I’m old! I thought all that baby growing equipment inside me had shut down. My body had never worked before. Why should it now, at my age?!
When he came home from the Temple and wrote it all out to me, well, I laughed – he kind of sat there, dumbstruck, his mouth hanging open and nothing coming out. I laughed, but I’ll be honest, I couldn’t stop shaking. The whole idea! It was a lot to take in.
You know, I spent so many years asking why. Why no babies? Why? Zachariah and I did everything right. We kept every commandment, even the weird ones. We loved God with all our might. For years, I had to withstand all the questions, all the “helpful” advice, all the holding other people’s babies when I wanted to hold mine.
We prayed and we prayed. The truth is that it was hard not to be angry with God. I was angry. I prayed about that too. In a way, maybe I still am.
But I finally sort of dealt with it, you know? And now? God was going to give us a child NOW?
Some of you know what it’s like to be a woman at my age, with kids or no kids. We begin to fade away, not that we want to. Not that we feel ready to. Our hair has turns gray. The youthful light in our faces dims. Our bodies change. It’s a strange place to be, both here and yet not here. We’re not noticed anymore. We’re not seen.
But take a woman my age and put a baby in her womb? Let me tell you, I was seen!
People couldn’t stop seeing me. I’d walk down the street and people would lean out of their windows just to get a look. And they whispered- or they THOUGHT they were whispering. And they talked out loud. And they even talked right to me, in my face, asking all sorts of personal, intrusive questions. But the funny thing was that I didn’t care! I was happy as a clam. And I was busy, you know, thinking about the baby that WAS GOING TO CHANGE OUR WHOLE LIFE! Not to mention I had to do all the talking for our family! All the explaining! Of course Zachariah is the father! Yes, the angel silenced him. No, I’m not making that up. No, Zachariah really can’t speak. Yes, we’ve tried lemon juice and honey. Yes we’ve tried whisky. It didn’t work, though he did smile a lot. Yes, you can talk to him. No, shouting does not help. He can hear fine. He just can’t speak.
But I wasn’t the only one who was busy.
Apparently, Gabriel, the angel, the MESSENGER OF GOD whom my husband had offended into being silenced, had another person to visit!
And the incredible thing is that of all the people in the world, once again, Gabriel picked someone I knew! It was Mary, a young cousin of mine. What a small, strange world!
Now I will say that another person in my situation might have been tempted to roll her eyes as Mary went around telling everybody that she was carrying the SON OF GOD! That pretty young thing- with hair that had not grayed and eyes too new to have seen much pain and lovely doe-y skin. Another person might even watch and wait to see who the baby resembled, and if he looked like the neighbor kid down the street- the one with the shaggy hair and the crooked grin, well, she’d have her answer. Another person might pray she gets stretch marks and circles under her eyes. Another person might stew on the fact that someone like herself wanted a child so desperately and had a happy home for that baby, with the maturity to make good choices and the ability to be a wise mother. And I was tempted to think that way- the thoughts crossed my mind, I’ll admit it.
But you know, as much as my inner voice wanted to be petty, I could not be that person. Because Gabriel visited Zechariah too. Because God gave us this baby. Because God gave us this baby, I can only believe in God’s power! I can only be thankful! I can only be floored and bewildered that God would choose us to be part of his plan! Because God gave us this baby, I can only rejoice with my young cousin! I remember when she was born- all that hair and the quiet, strangely peaceful child she was, the way she twirled her hair with her little finger whenever she was deep in thought. Because I know Mary and I know her heart- I know how much she loves God-I can only be ecstatic for her! For us all!
The little thing was all atwitter when she came to visit. She needed support, she needed someone to celebrate with her, not scrutinize. She needed someone to believe her. Someone who would help her think out this wondrous bizarre craziness that was happening to her! When she rushed in my house it all became real to me. As weird as it sounds, I saw the holiness all around her, like a silken screen, glittery, vibrating! She was bathing in it, and that holiness came alive in me too. She walked through the door and BAM! John leapt inside me with such intensity that I almost fell down, he knocked me so off kilter!
I saw all of that and I felt it and I knew it was true. It was real! And she claimed it, LIKE A QUEEN, in words that I’ll never forget! How did a poor peasant girl like our Mary speak such eloquence, speak such confidence, speak like a prophet? It was only through God. Only God could do that.
Mary stayed three months with me, and I’ll always remember that time. Something precious happened between the two of us. I could encourage her through her morning sickness. (How about that? Me, the experienced mother to be!) And she could give me company. We would sit around at night with Mr. No Words and spin tales of what our boys would do together. When I worried, she settled me, and when she worried, I comforted her. And then she was gone.
There was quiet in my house again, but not for long. When Baby John finally decided to make his way into the world, he made his presence known! Loudly! Where was the bookish little quiet man I’d expected? Where was the boy who would be just like his daddy, trying to find a place for everything and everything in its place? Nowhere, that’s where! Our John, who’s six months old now, blabbers a mile a minute. He’s raring to go!
Even at the bris we could hardly keep him still. Maybe he sensed that his Rye and I were a little on edge, not just because they were going to cut our perfect boy, (I know it’s what we do but I don’t have to like it.) We were trying to trust God that what the angel promised would come true, that Zachariah’s voice would return once our son received his chosen name. I had to push on that a little, but I didn’t mind. It’s what God wanted, and I wanted it too. How I longed to hear my husband’s voice again, calling my name. Shoot, even complaining about the locusts- anything.
The priests wanted to name him Zachariah (Awkward!) and when I said, “No! His name is John,” they went on lecturing me about how we don’t have relatives by that name! Like I didn’t know that already! And even though I WAS STANDING RIGHT THERE, they started making signs to Rye (as if he couldn’t hear!- a couple of them aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed) asking him what name he would like the boy to have. Zachariah got a pad of paper and wrote “His name is John.” At least they listened then!
It was at that very moment that my man got his speech back! He started praising God- and so did I! Oh, the relief!
Rye got filled with the Holy Spirit and started prophesying right there, and I soaked up every word, partly because each word came from God, but also because I had almost forgotten what his voice sounded like, this man of God, my husband.
It’s been a crazy, beautiful, strange year and I wouldn’t want to go through it with anyone else.
Our little John is the light of our life. I guess he must think all mommies have gray hair and wrinkles, but that’s okay. I just want what all mothers want. A healthy baby. A bright future. Safety in the Lord. A passion to live for. I pray for those things for my John.
He may do big things for God one day, but for now, we’re just glad we’re blessed with a normal baby boy. A boy who loves his bath- he’s a little fish! Now that he can sit up in the tub, you should see how he splashes around, dunking the little ducky my brother carved for him. It’s never enough to wash himself- he has to get us all wet too. He likes crawling around the house and blabbering. (We call him our little preacher.) He LOVES the free honey samples they give out at the market and he thinks camels are hilarious. The only thing he doesn’t seem to care for is our walks in the desert. He’s always crying out in the wilderness, but Zachariah says that he probably just has something he’s trying to say.
Speaking of having something to say, I suppose this has gotten long so I’ll sign off. Know that we send our best wishes to you! May God, who blesses us all beyond our understanding, use every one of us! And may we bring our heavenly father sheer delight!
Happy 4BC to you and yours!
Love, Elizabeth, Zachariah, and Baby John.