Day 13: Seclusion
Luke 1:25 - “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
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There’s a side story to the Nativity that runs parallel to the story of the birth of Jesus. That is the story of the birth of John the Baptist. The short form of the story is a priest named Zechariah is visited by an angel and told he and his wife Elizabeth will conceive a son that they should name John. Zechariah finds this hard to believe even though an angel says it because he and his wife have never had children and are too old biologically to start. For doubting an angel, Zechariah is struck mute until the baby is born. Somewhat unsurprisingly, with her husband unable to run his mouth, the couple are immediately able to conceive.
And there is this little detail in the 24th verse of the first chapter of Luke
”After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.”
Seclusion. “The state of being private and away from other people” as Webster’s defines the word.
Elizabeth is blessed with an impossible miracle pregnancy and she hides herself away for five months. But why? The first guess might be embarrassment. She’s old. It seems strange to be pregnant. She might be worried that people will gossip. Her husband had been away serving at the temple and they hadn’t been able to have children previously … people might speculate. But she’s not ashamed of her pregnancy. Quite the opposite. The next verse states, “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Her dream is coming true and she’s hiding.
I can only guess the reasons. I think she’s protecting her promise. She’s hiding away from both the critical and the well-meaning. This woman is, according to the Bible, “very old”. She might have a few doubts about her ability to deliver a baby. It was a stigma in her culture and time that a woman that couldn’t conceive did not have God’s favor. Elizabeth and her husband are described in the Bible as “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly”. They were good people, but Elizabeth still talks of the “disgrace” of not being able to have children. People talk. People say things with their eyes. And Elizabeth had suffered already in life seasons of heartbreaking disgrace. Elizabeth had endured other mothers that meant well. “Oh, Elizabeth, you keep your chin up. You’re next! I’m sure of it! Come this time next year it’ll be you that’s pregnant! You’ and Zach will make great parents and I know God will bless you with a child.” But many times “next year” had come and gone without a baby. Eventually the well-wishers stopped wishing Elizabeth a child. It hurt when those around her made wishful promises that she would conceive. And then it hurt when they stopped, silently acknowledging that her dream had withered.
She had a scar in her heart.
And now, through a miracle, God had touched her and her heartbreak was taken away. But Elizabeth is still protective. She is still cautious. She goes into seclusion to protect herself from thoughtless, faithless words. From encouragement that’s discouraging. Remember, her husband can’t talk. God is protecting Elizabeth’s tender hope as her dream literally grows inside her. She doesn’t need people reminding her she’s old. She doesn’t need people telling her their “hoping” she has a smooth delivery. Or crossing their fingers for good luck on her behalf.
She goes into seclusion. She hides herself and replays the promise of God over and over in her mind. Until that promise from God is all she can hear. Until the voice of God is all she has tuned her heart to.
And when her young cousin Mary comes to visit, she’s ready to share her private refuge of hope with Mary - a pregnant woman who’s also fighting a battle for hope herself.
In Luke 1:42 Elizabeth feels the baby inside her leap with joy as Mary arrives carrying the Messiah in her womb. Elizabeth has spent months listening with her heart so she immediately recognizes the Spirit of God already speaking to the unborn John. She launches into a hope offensive to strengthen Mary.
“In a loud voice [Elisabeth] exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’”
Elizabeth unleashes a deluge a faith that she has been building up in her seclusion. Out of her own scars, she brings forth encouragement. It is after this encouragement that Mary will first sing her own song of faith.
Maybe you have “disgraces” that God has healed. You’ve spent a season in seclusion, healing and holding on to hope. Be ready. God made need you to speak into someone’s life. Others who have been hurt by the well-wishers may trust you because of your scars. So, speak out your hard-won hope!
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Copyright All images & writing © 2018 Charis Seed Photography