“Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn’t speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.

“When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home.  It was not long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. ‘So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!’ she said.” Luke 1:21-25.

True to the angel’s prediction, Zachariah was struck dumb from the moment the angel had spoken. The waiting worshippers realised that something out-of-the-ordinary had happened to him behind the curtain of the sanctuary. His unskilled use of sign language left them curious and mystified.

Zachariah completed his duties in the temple and returned home to Elizabeth. One wonders how he explained to Elizabeth what had happened to him in the sanctuary and what the angel had said to him! Perhaps he had to leave the details of the story until after John’s birth. The most important fact was that Elizabeth conceived a child to her amazement and delight. Unlike some of the reactions of elderly mothers-to-be, she saw in this event the grace of God and the removal of the stigma of childlessness.

Not only was the fact that she was at last to have a child precious to her, but also the realisation that God had not forgotten her. All the years of waiting, the cycle of hope and disappointment and the belief that she was not one of God’s favoured daughters, fell away with the slowly dawning reality that she was pregnant; she, barren Elizabeth, was no longer barren.

She went into solitude, not to hide in shame or embarrassment, but to savour and enjoy this new-found realisation that God had a purpose for her too. She wanted to be alone with her God to worship Him and to voice her ceaseless praise to Him without interruption from any other human being, not even her husband, Zachariah.

Was it this season of solitude with God part of the foundation laid for John’s life and destiny? Elizabeth may not have lived to see the outcome of this boy that she was privileged to bring into the world, but she would surely go to her rest knowing that he was safely in the hands of the God who had destined him for greatness.

She worshipped and prayed into her unborn son the great heritage of her people, perhaps using the song-book of the Psalms to instil into him a love for God and His Word that carried him through testing, incarceration and an untimely and violent death.

Jesus classified John as the greatest of the Old Covenant prophets, even though his ministry lasted a paltry six months. It was not the length of his ministry that constituted his greatness but the nature of his calling and the diligence and faithfulness with which he carried it out. His had the honour, as the forerunner of Messiah, to herald the king’s arrival even though Jesus did not come with the pomp and ceremony of an earthly king.

True to His role as the rightful ruler of creation and all mankind, Jesus came in humility and simplicity and John announced His coming as befitted Him. It was not their apparel or their bearing that made them great but the authority of their office, Jesus as the king and John His herald, given to them by the great God Himself.

Elizabeth was the wife of a country priest but she fulfilled her maternal role with dignity and excellence, preparing her son from the moment of his conception to be the greatest prophet who ever lived.

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Luella Campbell

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