The Fourth Day of Christmas: A Couple Morphs into Parenthood

December 29, 2013

As we continue our celebration of Christmastide, carrying with us the realities of human existence like cancer and other soul-burdens, I didn’t want to miss a detail in Luke’s account related to Zechariah and Elizabeth. This priestly couple had enjoyed—or endured, depending on one’s point of view—a childless marriage for decades. It had been long enough for Elizabeth to absorb the shameful label “barren,” for it was considered a major bummer in her culture to not be able to bear children. Barrenness was viewed as a “sign” that God had withheld blessing, that something was wrong with them, and that their family line would soon be obliterated.

This family circumstance did not stand in the way of Zechariah conducting his priestly duty at the temple; and it’s a good thing, because Zechariah was met by an angel in the sanctuary of the Lord. The priest is terrified by Gabriel’s appearance (1:12), a bit belligerent when told his wife would bear him a son (1:18), conditioned by years of failure and disappointment I imagine. Not happy with Zechariah’s response, Gabriel has to pull rank and assert his authority, “I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you to bring this good news” (1:19). Zechariah is struck dumb and shamed into silence while the angel explains what is to happen.

Having lost his voice, all Zechariah could do as he emerged from the sanctuary was to pantomime something. (We don’t know if he tried to mime “angel” as if he were playing charades, but it is an entertaining thought!) What we do know is that when his temple term was up, he went back to his home, where “his wife conceived” (1:24). Connect the dots here: despite his skepticism, despite the history, despite a sense of hopelessness and shame that had crept into their relationship, despite their age, Zechariah and Elizabeth came together and conceived a child. Now that was an act of faith!

Two people, a couple who had become comfortable with each other, became parents, just like that, unified in action and in identity to start a family. Nothing is impossible with God.

When God installs a new reality into your life—something new or out from left field (as I have described my cancer diagnosis)— God expects that you will now live into the new reality as an act of faith and trust in him. My new duty assignment AD (after diagnosis) calls me to enter fully into the cancer reality, as much as I hate to do that given my protests of health and other priorities. The purpose of entering it fully is to be fully present to God, who has met me in this place, and to be ready to do his bidding, which can only be accomplished now from this particular vantage point. Some day, presumably like Zechariah and Elizabeth, I might be able to say, this life is what I would have chosen if given the chance. As it is, this life is what has been given, and I better receive it well in order to be the person God has called me to be for my family, friends, and readers. Part of that new discipleship entails cooperating with treatments, enduring the discomforts joyfully, resting in cancer-fatigue, and otherwise going with a much slower flow than I am used to. No longer am I a foot-loose and fancy free “single,” but an encumbered and duty-bound patient attached to a new health history for the purpose of bearing new fruit.

The life God has given you to lead is attached to a reality uniquely yours. I’m hoping during this Christmastide that you would be able to see your circumstance as God’s invitation to bear new fruit in a new, unanticipated, way. Perhaps with that mindset, you could participate in your personal transformation with joy and thankfulness, available to God and ready to offer that fruit in his service.

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3 Responses to “The Fourth Day of Christmas: A Couple Morphs into Parenthood”

  1. Judy Palm Says:

    Dear Mary,

    We are praying for you in my Covenant group: Joanne Rutter, Julie Mercer, Carol Berg, Suzanne Sedlewicz, Liz Schulze, Debbie Reif and others. I am new to the group and have only been twice

    I am a breast cancer survivor and am so very sorry to hear that you have lung cancer. It sounds like you have a good team helping you. I will continue to pray for you. I had two surgeries and radiation, so I know a little bit of what you are going through. I just had to trust the Lord, as you are are doing.

    God bless you always…

    Love, Judy & Peter Palm


  2. […] The Fourth Day of Christmas: A Couple Morphs into Parenthood […]

  3. John W. Potter Says:

    Mary: Thank you for sharing your skill and wisdom as a Bible scholar and pastoral teacher. My heart often leaps within me when I hear your “voice” (via Presbyweb). That happened again today with your pithy reflection on Zechariah and Elizabeth’s challenge as new parents in old age and the connection to your own call following a new health situation. I’m praying that full healing will be the God-glorifying fruit borne out of your new call of duty. No matter what, thanks again for reminding me that serving a God who is not limited by the impossible is often going to mean surrendering my own comfortable habits, attitudes and expectations. May we all trust that God has the best things in store for us when we obey and surrender to Him.

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