Elizabeth sat on the ground, heels tucked beneath her, and kneaded the dough in the bowl in front of her. A strand of gray hair slipped from beneath her head covering and clung to the perspiration running down her temple. After a moment, she grimaced, sat up straight and rubbed her aching lower back. Then she placed one hand under her heavy abdomen to support it and struggled to her feet.
Slowly, she shuffled over to a bench in a shady corner of the yard and plopped down. She closed her eyes for a moment and laid one hand tenderly across her stomach.
"Oooh!" she cried out in surprise, her eyes flying open as the baby suddenly kicked. The old woman patted the place where the tiny foot had struck and she began to laugh. At first, she chuckled softly, then louder and louder until tears rolled down her soft and wrinkled cheeks.
When her laughter subsided, she gazed tenderly down at her abdomen, now still and quiet, and shook her head in awe.
How could this be? How could she, Elizabeth, conceive a child in her old age after a lifetime of barrenness?
Elizabeth turned her face to the sky and held her hands to heaven and prayed: "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever" (Ps. 106:1, NIV).
A moment later, she walked back across the courtyard, bent to pick up the kneading bowl and carried it to the beehive-shaped oven. The fire she began earlier that morning had burned down to coals, heating the fragments of pottery that lined the walls of the oven. Expertly, she plucked a portion of dough, rolled it between her palms, flattened it and then tossed it through the opening where it stuck onto the wall inside. The bread baked quickly. Soon the kneading bowl was empty, and a large platter nearby was piled high with fragrant discs of bread.
Elizabeth picked up the platter and gratefully made her way across the yard to the cool interior of her home. A short time later, she sat mending a tear in one of Zechariah's robes when she heard a familiar voice call out in greeting.
Her cousin Mary stepped through the door. Immediately the baby in Elizabeth's womb began to leap for joy, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She stood and began to prophesy loudly as she crossed the room to Mary:
"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!" (Luke 1:42-45).
Mary's eyes filled with tears of happiness. She stepped forward and placed one hand on each side of Elizabeth's abdomen. The baby rolled and kicked at her touch.
Life. Elizabeth's long-barren womb was filled with miraculous, abundant life. The angel's words came back to Mary, driving away all doubt and fear: "For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37, ESV).
Mary didn't understand how she, a virgin, could conceive the child the angel promised. She didn't know how she would avoid the shame and protentional punishment that accompanied unwed mothers in her culture. Mary had no idea how she would provide for herself and for the child in the long years to come.
But it wasn't her job to know. It was God's.
He only asked that she trust Him moment by moment, day by day. Deep inside Mary's heart, a knot of anxiety and fear untangled as she released everything into God's hands. She took Elizabeth by the hand and led her back to her seat. Then Mary sat on the floor beside her and laid her head against Elizabeth's knee as tears of relief and surrender flowed down her cheeks. Gently, Elizabeth stroked Mary's hair as the young girl lifted her praises to God:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is His name. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and His descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors (Luke 1:46-55, NIV).
Sherri Gragg is a writer and speaker who enjoys researching the history, people and culture of the Middle East. She is the author of five books, including her latest, Advent: The Story of Christmas (Dayspring, 2019). Sherri lives and writes in beautiful Franklin, Tennessee.
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