Christmas, God Talks

Let There Be Light

It was my last chance to change my mind. I didn’t have to do this; no one was making me.

Even the dark, gray sky seemed anxious. Clouds hung low and the air was cold and drizzly.


The part of me that craves safety and comfort told me to take the easier route and avoid this all together. But the part of me with the adventurous streak that loves once-in-a-lifetime experiences fought back a little stronger.

So I zipped my rain jacket. Rolled my jeans as far up over my knees as I could. Pulled my flashlight out of my pocket. Took a deep breath.

And stepped down beneath the city.

Down, down, down. Farther and farther away from fresh air and light and the chance to turn around. As we descended farther beneath the Middle Eastern city, the air grew more damp and musty. The thick rock walls surrounding us grew colder to the touch. Eventually, we reached water.

And then darkness. Complete darkness.

As I stepped into the water, I clicked on my flashlight. Without it, I couldn’t even have seen my own hand in front of my face, much less the person in front of me or the water that swished around my legs.

I’m not naturally claustrophobic, but something about being so far beneath the ground of a foreign country—surrounded by rock with no way to turn back, no way to escape, no way to get help if needed—got to me.

Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving became the mantra I chanted to myself as my group trudged single-file through the tunnel. In some places, the water only reached mid-calf, while in others, it swelled above my knees. Sometimes the tunnel widened, while at other times, it became so narrow I had to turn sideways.

I didn’t stop moving. I couldn’t. A few times, panic started to rise in my throat, and I prayed for help. To distract myself, I thought about all of the history contained within that tunnel—history I’d grown up reading about in the Bible. In 8thcentury B.C., King Hezekiah ordered the construction of the tunnel as a way to protect the city’s water source from siege:

When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to wage war against Jerusalem,  he consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him.– 2 Chronicles 32:2-3

I kept my flashlight trained on the water so that I could follow the footsteps of the person in front of me, thinking about how, nearly three thousand years ago, two teams started at opposite ends of the wall and carved out the tunnel until they met in the middle. I marveled at how this crew could accomplish such a feat without the help of modern tools, communication devices, or light sources.

We trudged along for 1,750 feet. Cold and wet. Surrounded by darkness. As fascinating as it all was, I longed for dry cloths, fresh air, and most of all, daylight.

Eventually, we reached the mouth of the tunnel. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I stepped out of the darkness and into the ancient City of David.

Not all that far from where I stood, a carpenter searched for a place to stay and found a stable. A girl delivered a baby on a bed of hay, wrapped him in strips of cloth, and laid him in a feeding trough.

Then angels appeared to frightened shepherds, announcing the location of this unbelievable event:

“Today in the City of David a Savior has been born to you…” (Luke 2:11).

The City of David. The place prophets had talked about. The place where God Himself entered history on a rescue mission.

The place where light broke through the darkness.

“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.” – Isaiah 9:2

When I stepped out of Hezekiah’s tunnel, I found myself at the remains of the Pool of Siloam, the place where the Light of the World rescued a man held captive by darkness.

“As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

 ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. ” – John 9:1-7.

Color and dimension and hope overwhelmed the senses of a man who only knew darkness. A beggar received a priceless treasure.

And two thousand years later, a girl wearing water shoes and clutching a flashlight stood in the place where Light flooded the earth. Over 6,000 miles from where she lived, and yet somehow home.

Maybe you feel like you’re trudging through a dark tunnel with no end in sight. Maybe you feel surrounded or trapped. Maybe you’re hurting or scared or just wondering when the darkness will end. If that’s you, look to the One darkness cannot overcome.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5

This Christmas, look to the One whose birth changed the course of history. Look to the One who gave sight to the blind and opened our eyes to experience His love. Look to the One who is with you in darkest tunnel.

Look to the Light of the World.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light. And there was light.” – Genesis 1:3

Christmas

Even Me

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.

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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?

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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.”

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Dear friends,

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,
Anna