It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This wasn’t what she dreamed about as a little girl. She was supposed to get married and quickly start a family.
It’s how it happened for her sisters. For her friends.
She had a husband—a good, strong, faithful man—but her dream of having a baby hadn’t come true.
By now, she could’ve wished upon a thousand stars. Could’ve dreamed a new dream. Could’ve walked away from the God who was supposed to hear her prayers.
But she stayed. Kept hoping. Kept waiting.
Until it was too late.
All of her siblings and neighbors had children and grandchildren. Their homes were filled to the brim with laughter, their voices spilling across the street to her quiet house.
But her home—and her womb—remained empty.
Months of disappointment turned into years. Years turned into decades. At some point along the way, Elizabeth stopped counting. It hurt too much.
Everyone in town knew, too. When she walked through the market, she could see the other women’s mouths droop in sympathy. She watched them exchange glances with one another, their eyes seeming to say, “Oh, Elizabeth. That poor, barren woman. She couldn’t give her husband a child.”
She never stopped hoping, never stopped praying for God to answer her prayers. But God didn’t answer. Actually, God hadn’t answered anyone in a long time. Four hundred years had passed since He had last given words to His messengers.
Elizabeth and her husband were old now. Even if there wasn’t something wrong with her, she was well past the timeframe where she could become a mother.
One afternoon, she stood in a crowd of people outside of the temple, praying and waiting for her husband. Zechariah was a priest, and he had been chosen to go into the temple and burn incense. It was a sacred, serious honor. A role not to be taken lightly. Elizabeth was eager to hear about it. She looked in the direction of the temple’s entrance, shading her eyes with a wrinkled hand. What was taking him so long? The crowd was growing restless.
Suddenly, the crowd gasped and Elizabeth craned her neck to see what was happening.
“Zechariah! What is it? What did you see?” a man in the crowd called out.
Elizabeth pushed her way through the mass of people until she reached her husband. When she spoke his name, he turned to face her. Though his eyes were on hers, it was like he wasn’t even seeing her. Like he was mesmerized by something invisible.
Elizabeth reached for his arm, took it in her hands. “What’s wrong?” Her eyes searched his pale, bearded face.
He opened his mouth to reply, then brought a hand to his throat. His eyes widened, taking on a manic sheen. He opened his mouth again, but no words emerged. Instead, he began wildly gesturing behind him, to the entrance where the altar of incense was kept.
“A vision!” Another priest spoke up. “He’s seen a vision in the temple!”
Elizabeth gulped. A vision? Of what? She clutched her husband’s arm tighter to steady herself. Had God actually spoken after all this time? What was going to happen?
Through gestures and writing, Zechariah explained some of what had happened that day at the temple. An angel appeared to him, telling him God had heard their prayers for a child. They would have a little boy, and they were supposed to name him John. He would grow up to tell people to get ready because the Rescuer was coming. Many people would get to know God because of him.
Zechariah hadn’t believed the angel. After all, he and Elizabeth were old and had never been able to have a baby. Because of Zechariah’s doubt, the angel took his ability to speak but promised it would come back once everything God had promised happened.
It was such a wild story. Elizabeth didn’t blame Zechariah for questioning the plan. And to think, God had broken the centuries-long silence with a message about Elizabeth, an old, barren woman? It was incredible!
Six months had passed since that day at the temple. Half a year of living with a mute husband. Twenty-six weeks of watching a miracle unfold.
It started with headaches and nausea, followed by back pains. And then, gradually, incredibly, miraculously, her abdomen began to grow.
Elizabeth the barren was having a baby!
Now, Elizabeth stood in the doorway, one hand pressed against the small of her aching back, her eyes intently watching the street for signs of her cousin. They had so much to catch up on during their visit.
A young woman rounded the corner, and Elizabeth stepped outside. She raised her hand to catch the girl’s attention.
The girl’s face split into a grin as she began to run. “Elizabeth!” she called.
Suddenly, something flipped within Elizabeth, like her stomach had somersaulted into her rib cage. She stumbled and reached out to steady herself against the doorframe. Laughter bubbled from her mouth as Mary threw herself into Elizabeth’s arms.
“How blessed you are, Mary!” Elizabeth cried, holding her cousin as closely against her as she could. “And how blessed is this baby you’re carrying!” She took the girl by the shoulders and held her at arm’s length. Tears ran down Elizabeth’s weathered face as she said, “Who am I to have the honor of a visit from the mother of my Savior? When I heard you call my name, the baby in my womb jumped for joy! You’re so blessed because you believed God would do everything He said!”
She took Mary’s hand and pressed it against her stomach, where the baby still kicked in excitement. Mary reached for Elizabeth’s hand and pressed it against her own abdomen, still flat beneath her clothes.
“This is really happening!” Mary said, her voice shaking. “We’re having babies!”
It was true, even though Elizabeth was too old to have a baby and was supposedly barren. And then sweet Mary—not only was she too young to be a mother, but she was a virgin.
And yet, life swelled within them. Two miracles in the making.
Three months later, Elizabeth delivered a son. She choked on a sob as the baby was placed on her chest.
The baby drew in a shaky first breath, filling brand-new lungs with air. He opened his mouth and cried out into the night.
As he cried, the ancient words of the prophet Isaiah rang in Elizabeth’s ears: “Listen! It’s the voice of someone crying in the wilderness: ‘Get ready for our God! Make a path through the desert for Him!’”
Beside her, Mary looked as if she’d seen a ghost. She slowly reached out, ran one trembling hand over the baby’s hair and rested the other against her own abdomen.
Elizabeth smiled at Mary—the girl who would give birth to the promised Rescuer in just a few months. He was the One her own son had been announcing since before he was even born.
Eight days later, Elizabeth and Zechariah made their way back to the temple where it all started. But this time, Elizabeth cradled a swaddled newborn baby against her chest. The whole town—all of Elizabeth’s relatives and neighbors—celebrated with them as they approached the place where they would dedicate the baby to God.
“You’re naming him Zechariah, right?” one of the neighbors asked. They weren’t wrong to assume that’s what they would name the baby. Under normal circumstances, they would name a firstborn son after his father. But these circumstances were the opposite of normal.
Elizabeth looked down at the baby, his eyes closed, his breaths deep, his small fist nestled against his face.
“No, he will be called John.” She smiled up at the people around her. Immediately, they turned to Zechariah, who stood at her side.
“Write down his name,” they told him. “The name you want him to be called.”
Someone handed Zechariah a tablet, and he wrote in clear, bold letters: His name is John.
Then he coughed. Coughed again. And with the voice of a man awakening from deep sleep, quiet at first then increasing in volume, he said: “Praise God! He has come to His people and is bringing us a Rescuer, just like he promised through the prophets long ago. This baby belongs to Him. John will get everyone ready for the One who will forgive their sins and give them a brand-new life!”
He looked over at Elizabeth and smiled, his eyes shining with amazement and tears of joy just waiting for their chance to escape.
Elizabeth hugged the baby closer to her. John, whose name meant God is gracious, was proof that God heard the longing of her heart. God did not forget Elizabeth, and God did not forget His people. In the waiting, God was working. His rescue mission was unfolding.
“Thank you, Father God,” Elizabeth whispered. “I’m not worthy to be a part of this story, but still you chose me. You truly do love your people. Even me.”
If this Christmas find you you in a season of waiting, longing, or grieving, I pray you’ll find hope in Elizabeth’s story. I used my imagination to retell it, but you can read the real account in Luke 1.
The Bible tells us that God came to earth for the barren, the lonely, the broken, the outcast. For me. For you. He shows His goodness in the most unexpected ways. He is the joy of every longing heart.
One day, He will come back and make everything brand-new. There will be no more tears, no more pain, no more wondering.
But in the meantime, remember that He has never, ever broken one of His promises. Even when He seems silent, He is still working. He sent a Rescuer for you because He loves you. And He isn’t finished with your story.
In His love,