Saturday, November 09, 2013

The secret

It took her a while to believe it had really happened – the whole thing was so wildly improbable (“just like Sarah, just like Sarah,” she kept thinking). And the only thing that helped her keep a grip on this impossible reality was the daily experience of her husband’s loss of speech (so NOT like Zechariah!).  At first, when he had laboriously written out what had happened to him the temple she had seriously wondered if he had imagined the whole thing, if the delusion of an angelic encounter and his new-found inability to speak were, both together, the symptoms of some strange disease, and she had feared the possibility that she would find herself married to a madman. But as time passed, and her husband still seemed sane and healthy in every other respect, she was able to put aside that particular fear, replacing it with one of a very different kind. The evidence of her own body and the evidence of her husband’s story corroborated one another, and she was overcome by awe.

For five months she hid herself away, and told nobody else what was happening. There was so much to consider, to re-think, to marvel at. Never before had she felt so exultant; never before had she felt so vulnerable. God had taken away the shame and reproach of her barrenness, no longer would she be a figure of scorn for her failure to fulfil the principal function of a wife and preserve her husband’s patrimony in Israel for the next generation. She could hold her head up high in the world, she had accomplished, finally, what every uneducated labourer’s wife seemed to manage without a second thought. But, at the same time, there was something slightly absurd in a woman of her age going around with a pregnant belly. She thought of the possible coarse jests, the silly awkward remarks, and knew that she was not yet ready to face the world. This was the most sacred, amazing, humbling thing that had ever happened to her, and she needed time to savour it, to turn it over in her mind and consider its meaning from every possible angle before she let anyone else debase her experience by the least tone or gesture.

She did not expect it to be the angel of the Lord who told her secret – that same Gabriel who had appeared to her husband in the Temple and told him that her barrenness was ending and a wonderful son would be born to them, and then, when her husband (always speaking before he had time to think things through!) expressed his doubts at such an unlikely event, declared that Zechariah would lose the power of speech until all these things had taken place. Now this same angel had spoken to her young cousin Mary, up in Galilee, and told her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy. For Mary had come bearing an even greater miracle, for she too was pregnant, though still a virgin! And her child was the child for whom the faithful through the centuries had been waiting – the Messiah, the Lord! And in that moment Elizabeth saw and understood that her delicacy and secrecy wasn’t needed anymore: this child-to-be, this gift she had been given, was part of a much larger story, a story larger than the whole world. One day all the world would know her story, but that didn’t matter either, what mattered was that God had come to visit and redeem His people.

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