"During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old."
Luke 1:5-7, NET
"Never let love or loyalty ever leave you. Wrap them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart."
Proverbs 3:3, NET
The story of Zachariah and Elizabeth is nearly lost among the singing angels and shining stars of Luke’s detailed account of Jesus Christ’s birth. An old man and woman serving God in simple obedience for the length of their lives doesn’t necessarily make for headlines or Hollywood blockbusters. But, as a sort of prologue to the narrative of Jesus’ birth, the old couple’s quiet saga serves, like their eccentric son John, as an arrow pointing us toward impending blessing; paving the way for the coming of a king.
In Elizabeth and Zachariah’s lives we see the value of persistent patience; the value of prolonged faithfulness. Through the emotional trial of infertility, the couple remained obedient to God. We are told that they were "careful in the keeping to the ways of the commandments." They knew something about God’s love—His loyalty—even if they hadn’t experienced the fullness of his faithfulness quite yet. They had allowed God to conform them, over a lifetime, to something of His grace and beauty. It is toward the end of their story that Luke’s account opens up—at the point where Elizabeth is granted a son and Zachariah is made mute. Here we see the glorious result of the old couple’s devotion.
Elizabeth and Zachariah give us a glimpse of the kind of long-suffering devotion necessary for a life of faith—an embodiment of the counsel of Proverbs 3:3. If we pattern our lives after the obedience we see in Elizabeth and Zachariah, we similarly prepare the way for the coming of the king. We do this by taking into ourselves the twin values of love and loyalty—they are consistently the vehicle that God chooses to pull us closer to himself.
Of course it is easy, as we so often lose ourselves in the feedback loop of technologically-aided vanity, to overlook these quainter qualities of saintliness. Awards usually get handed out to the saints with the most polished press kits; the ones with the most marketing muscle. The newsstand charges top dollar for eye-level billing and the appetite of the consumer has been cleverly targeted in advance. And it is no secret that long after all the celebrities have gone home, after the politicians have wrung every bit of opportunity from the moment, after the lights have been unstrung; there is left behind a legacy of ache and emptiness.
Elizabeth must have known something of this same ache. Like Sarah long before her, she was a woman who lost much of her cultural worth to the affliction of barrenness. Like her ancestors, Elizabeth knew the reality of the desert. Yet, like her husband Zachariah, she reached beyond the ache to remain faithful to God; to "keep the ancient commandments and enjoy a clear conscience."
We can see, then, that most of God’s best work is done in the yawning pauses between His promises and their fulfillment. In the silence that often follows His assurance, we learn, in a real way, the path to loyalty and love. It is by way of the death valleys in our lives that love is wrapped externally around our necks and internally written on our hearts. From David the young shepherd and Daniel the young dreamer, to Abram and Sarai, many of God’s best were subjected to the barrenness of the desert. Even Jesus, it seems, was not exempt from the humbling periods of God’s silence. For us, there is surely no difference.
During the Christmas season, as we celebrate our holidays in a colorful and often confusing blend of sacred and secular, it would be helpful for us to consider Elizabeth and Zacharias, the quiet servants who paint such a searing a picture of loyalty and of love. As we turn our attention to the quiet birth of Christ, we would do well to consider the kind faithfulness that makes a way for the coming of the Lord.