5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.
– Luke 1:5-7
Our author, Luke, establishes the historical context for us with the words, “In the days of King Herod of Judea.” Imagine years from now, historians writing, “It was the year 2020.” Those words will likely elicit some level of emotion. Many, if not most of us, look at 2020 as the year we faced unprecedented disruption to our lives and sense of normalcy. Recently, I asked my 91-year-old grandmother, “Granny Bonnie, in your life, have you ever seen anything like this past year?” She replied simply, “Never in my life have I experienced anything like this.”
The days of King Herod were dark and difficult days for people like Zechariah and Elizabeth. For nearly 70 years the Roman Empire had exerted its oppressive power over Judea and the surrounding area. The large tax burdens associated with empire-building had left an estimated 95% of God’s people in poverty. Decades of tyrannical rule had left many hopeless.
But the hardships weren’t just societal, they were also deeply personal. Despite the discouraging circumstances that surrounded them, Zechariah and Elizabeth were “…righteous in God’s sight, living without blame…”(Luke 1:6) Yet, their faithfulness had not exempted them from suffering. Elizabeth was unable to have children, the pinnacle accomplishment for a woman in that culture and time. This dream unfulfilled was so disappointing, Elizabeth self-described herself as a “disgrace” (Luke 1:25) Unfortunately, some bad ideologies have no expiration date. Zechariah and Elizabeth may have wondered, “What have we done or not done to cause this?” There was a misguided idea that Elizabeth’s condition signaled a loss of favor with God. Even though it isn’t true, people believe it.
But for Zechariah and Elizabeth, it wasn’t just about dreams and longings, it was also about the loss of social security. Without children in the 1st century, there was no way to provide or care for yourself in your senior years. Sons and daughters would provide through labor and care what their parents no longer could when they were old. It would be like having no social security or retirement plan today.
Maybe you can relate to Elizabeth. Have you experienced disappointment in your career? Have important relationships grown cold? Has a dream long faded away?
Where can we find hope in troubled times?
The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth reminds us that God not only makes promises to His children, but He perfectly keeps them. What God promises, He will perform, only He will do it in His time and sometimes in very surprising ways.
It was in their old age, when all hope of children was lost, that God sends an angel to tell Zechariah, “Do not be afraid … because your prayer has been heard.” God was providing them with a son, and not just any son. Their son would prepare the way for the Messiah. Elizabeth’s reflection on this miracle is poignant: “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:25) God showed up in Elizabeth’s life and rescued her from hopelessness. You can trust that He will show up in your life as well.
Further Reading: Psalm 33:20-22.
Reflection: Where do you feel helpless and hopeless? Offer those concerns to your Heavenly Father today, trusting in His goodness and timing.