Millions of people tuned in to watch the infamous wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton. You’re probably well aware that Prince William is second in line to the throne, and you maybe even waited impatiently with the world for the birth of Prince William and Princess Catherine first child. The baby would one day be the reigning heir. This bloodline is significant! What if Princess Kate had been unable to conceive a child? It would have been a big deal!
All of this hype, and British royalty is merely for appearances, they are not governing or religious rulers.
Family and lineage are especially important in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. There’s a story about a woman named Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s family was a prominent Jewish family. She came from the priestly lineage of Aaron. Marrying the priest Zechariah was an extremely ideal union! Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous Jews, so not only were they an ideal biological match, but also made a great religious fit.
The only problem, is that Elizabeth was unable to conceive a child. The perfect genetic match, was unable to carry on the line.
Barrenness in the ancient world carried a pretty terrible stigma. If a woman could not conceive a child, it was because she was sinful, unrighteous, unworthy. It was even believed that God had forgotten her.
Throughout the story of the Israelites, the theme of barrenness is woven in. The matriarch of our faith were unable to conceive, from Sarah to Rebecca, Rachel to Hannah.
Being a mother was the most significant role of a woman in the ancient world. That’s what they did. That’s who they were. Their identity, their significance, their worth was measured by their ability to bear and birth children. Not only that, but the livelihood of the family and the lineage hinged on a woman’s ability to carry a child for her husband. If a woman could not have a child, it was assumed that she had done something in order for God to punish her, to be “forgotten” by God. Socially, the inability to bear children was grounds for divorce, to be disfavored by the husband, a cause of embarrassment to the woman’s father, contempt, shame and humiliation, and on the barren woman’s part, bitterness and envy and resentment.
Elizabeth waited and waited and waited, as the years went by and she finally reached a point that they knew their opportunity had passed. She knew what it was like to wait for something that would never come to be.
Waiting is not popular. Most people think waiting is a waste of time. When you have the option at the store to stand behind 5 people or 2 people at the checkout line, you’re going to choose the line with 2. And impatiently tap your toe and scroll through Facebook 10 times. We have better things to do with our time than wait for a customer service representative to answer our call. Or waiting on someone to return our text message. We want to move, we want to do something worthwhile. Waiting can feel like a waste of time.
But there are times when we find ourselves waiting. It’s not somewhere we like to be. It’s the place between where we are and where we want to be. Elizabeth and Zechariah had waited. With no deliverance.
Henri Nouwen writes in his essay, The Path of Waiting:
Waiting is even more difficult because we are so fearful. He says that one of the most pervasive emotions in the atmosphere around us is fear. We as people are afraid — afraid of other people who may be different, afraid of inner or uncomfortable feelings, and also afraid of an unknown future. As fearful people we have a hard time waiting, because fear urges us to get away from where we are. If we find that we cannot flee, we may fight instead. We are aware of the many destructive acts that arise from our fear that something harmful will be done to us.
Fear is a strong emotion that comes with waiting. When the future is unknown, it is natural to be afraid. If you don’t know how things will turn out, if you’re uncertain about what you will eat tomorrow, how you will pay your mortgage next month, if you’ll be able to get new shoes for your kids, it’s normal to have fear. We fear the unknown. So we work in whatever we ways we can to make ourselves feel secure. When a blizzard is coming, you make sure you’ve got extra bread and milk. You stockpile resources for retirement, a time when you know you’ll be unable to work. The prophet Habakkuk talks about how the people started to worship their tools of wealth. The fishermen made sacrifices to their nets. They made an idol of the thing that brought them security.
Instead of trusting in God for security, we often turn to ourselves. We forget that our God is the creator of the universe, and we take matters into our own hands- clutching everything we have as tight as we can. In the story of the man who had a surplus of grain and built a bigger barn to store it- he died the next day.
What good is stockpiling grain if we die tomorrow?
As you read, hear and experience the birth narrative this Advent, you’ll notice a theme that runs through it. As God begins to do something new both in the world and in the lives or ordinary people, they are told, “Do not be afraid”.