Years ago she had learned to hold her head high amongst the whispers, even when her heart was breaking. They didn’t attack her directly, a priest’s wife had some status still, even a barren one, but she knew the hushed voices and the quickly averted eyes, the not-quite-hidden mockery. She knew it all, because her own heart was her fiercest critic. How could she have failed so badly when she had tried so hard? Why were her arms so empty when, every day, she saw careless women, shallow women, even pagan women, with babies in their arms? Was there some secret sin for which the Lord had cursed her with an unfilled womb? There was a time when she had wondered if it were her husband, Zechariah, who was at fault, but he was a good man, who earnestly sought the Lord. It could not be him. Besides, hadn’t she been taught all her life that these things were a woman’s responsibility. And now that she was too old for any possibility of pregnancy it was all a settled misery that she showed to no one.
Then came the day when her husband came home from serving in the temple. His tongue was silent but his face was radiant, and when he tried to write out on a tablet what had happened to him, she wondered if he had gone mad. What was this talk of angels and babies, of unbelief and dumbness? She had no idea what to make of any of this, but it was troubling. It stirred up old wounds, and in the silence of the night she cried out to God.
But as the weeks passed, she noticed the changes in her body, changes that would have filled her with joy twenty or thirty years before. But now she was confused. How could she be pregnant now, when her fertile years had brought her nothing? Could she be imagining this, self-deceived by the very desperation of her longings? And what if she lost the child? Wouldn’t that just invite further scorn from the mockers, further whispers in the corner? For five months she hid herself away from public scrutiny, afraid; yet even as she felt the waves of doubt and fear roll over her, she felt something else as well – a whisper of joy that would not be silenced, but as the unborn child grew, it grew as well, a secret angelic hymn of praise in her heart. Despite her aching, aging limbs and the growing weight within her, she wanted to dance down the street and sing out to the gossips and the whisperers that her reproach had been taken away.
And when she was six months pregnant, the last whisper of doubt was silenced, for her cousin Mary came from Nazareth, with a story even more wondrous than her own, and at their meeting, the Holy Spirit came upon her and she understood, and cried aloud her wonder and her praise. And the child in her womb leapt in wonder and delight (could such a thing even be?), for he recognised his Lord and his messiah, and, even before birth he was committed to his role to be the forerunner to call Israel back to repentance, just as Elijah had done in his own time. For the King was coming.
And the two women, one old and one young, but both caught up into the glory of the same story, embraced and wept and went into the house together. There was so much they needed to talk about.
And the whisperers never troubled Elizabeth again