Where is hope in the midst of sadness? Where is hope in the midst of confusion? Where is hope in the midst of frustration?
In my pastor’s sermon this week, he talked about how hopeless Israel felt as they waited for the promise of the Savior after 400 years of NOT hearing from God (after Malachi). Zachariah and Elizabeth also felt so hopeless as they had served God so faithfully, yet were old and childless and living in a time where that was shameful to most people. It seemed like they had done everything right, and yet God had allowed them to remain childless. How sad they must have been. It seemed like God was not listening. This feeling is not hard for many who suffer with infertility to understand. It is an illustration of how God’s people felt after 400 years of silence from above. Israel was waiting and praying that the Messiah, of whom the prophets had foretold, would come and save them. God was not hearing their prayers, they thought. How sad God’s people must have been.
There is a unique message here for families who suffer the pain of waiting to have a child. However, first we must know that many will not see the hope of having a child fulfilled. It is a reality that cannot be denied. So how is Elizabeth’s story applicable to them? (Spoiler alert, Elizabeth eventually had the child for which she had prayed.) Back up! Look at the pain she felt before. Was it worse than what Israel had suffered? Her pain was a small picture of what God’s people had felt for centuries. There is a unique sadness, confusion, and frustration that comes with infertility, yet Israel and all of God’s people had those same feelings of sadness, confusion, and frustration as they waited for the Messiah. To understand how great the gift of Hope is, we need to understand how great the hopelessness was that was felt by God’s people. It was as great as the suffering of a woman who is barren.
Yes, Elizabeth (and many others in God’s Word) had a child after years of barrenness, and it was no doubt only an act of God that made any of that happen. After dealing with loss and infertility, many quickly realize what a miracle each and every healthy newborn baby is. They know better than anybody else that it is only ever by an act of God that any child is born into this world. The Biblical stories of these women who eventually have a child are told in God’s Word to show us His direct hand in the Messianic lineage. These stories are important not because it shows us that maybe an infertile woman can have a child, but because they show us upon Whom our hopes should be focused.
The hopes of Zachariah, Elizabeth, and Israel were fulfilled with one announcement to a very astonished Zachariah as he served in the temple and was visited by the angel, Gabriel. Even better, it would be their son, John, who would announce the coming of Christ just as Malachi had prophesied. A woman who cannot have a child understands the unique pain felt by those who waited on a silent God to fulfill the promise of the coming Messiah. Because of that special understanding, let them be all the more eager to announce the ultimate fulfillment of hope in the wonderful news of Christ to others. Just as John proclaimed the coming of Christ, God's people can now confidently tell others of the miracle of Christ who took on flesh to give them the opportunity to find true Hope.
Each Christmas, we sing, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Do you remember that feeling of excitement as a kid when you began to anxiously think about what presents you might receive on Christmas morning? As we see ourselves and others, especially children, wait in anticipation for gifts at Christmas this year, let us be encouraged to think of what it felt like to wait in anticipation for God to send a Savior, the Hope of our world. Because of our Hope, let me say again, may we be the ones who announce the wonderful news of Christ to others.