Advent Day Five: But They Were Childless

“In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.” – Luke 1:5-10

You might know what comes next, but it might not hurt to pause here and remember that Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t know what would come next.  
After our second miscarriage, I remember my disdain for God.  I burned with anger at him.  To hearken back to yesterday’s post, I stomped my feet and yelled to my father in heaven, It’s not fair!  Even while I threw myself into work and professed to be “okay,” I found myself retreating inward, into the chasm of grief and doubt where I spent most of my thought life asking, Why? Why? Why? Who are you anyway?!
That seemed like a long season.  I didn’t know whether we’d ever conceive and carry a child to term.  What I thought I knew to be true about God was shaken.  I don’t think most of our family members and friends knew the burden I carried (well, that’s probably not true: I’m not exactly a private person).  We don’t all go around broadcasting our fears and our doubts, our inner struggles and wrestling with God.  But that doesn’t mean the wrestling match isn’t taking place.  
Underneath the exterior, underneath their obedience and their righteousness, Zechariah and Elizabeth struggled with infertility.  They passed their childbearing years childless.  Maybe it had been decades.  
Do you think Zechariah ever raised his fists to the heavens?  Do you think Elizabeth ever collapsed in a heap of shuddering flesh and bones on the floor of her home, grief a puddle of tears?  I bet they did.
Maybe Zechariah and Elizabeth had long since abandoned hope of ever conceiving.  Maybe the hurt of that burden had yet to wear off.  Maybe they had settled into their lives as husband and wife, joyfully serving, the pang of childlessness dull– maybe so far muted they hardly noticed the absence anymore.  
How silent, how unresponsive did God seem during those years?
And yet, in the mercy of stillness, in the grace of silence, Zechariah entered the temple of the Lord.
Sometimes, all we can do is enter the temple of the Lord.  And be still.  And wait.  Wait for glory to fall.  Wait for the Light.  Wait for the peace that passes understanding.  
Advent Activity: Look through Family Photo Albums
This might be one of my favorite activities during the advent season.  Each year since we moved to Ashland, I’ve put together an annual family photo album using Shutterfly, so now we have something like six photo albums cataloging all that we’ve done together the last six years.  It is heartwarming to reminisce together with our children, especially as they recall memories they’ve made and invent memories they couldn’t possibly have acquired on their own.  Flipping through these photo albums reminds us of our family’s story.  They map out our family’s adventures through all of the valleys and mountains to where we have arrived today.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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