Dedicated to the memory of “Oma” Clare Braukmann, who is at home with Jesus, finally filled with every good thing after a lifetime of waiting on Him with an Elizabeth heart. We love and miss you.
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah . . . his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest . . . he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Luke 1:5-23, condensed
Luke’s telling of the nativity story is my favorite by far. Even though Matthew’s genealogy literally changed my life by including the imperfect women who bore the Messianic line, and John gets so wordy and impressively theological about things with In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God(John 1:1), Luke grabs my heart because He talks about the women. Luke talks about Elizabeth, past miracle age, past hoping . . . yet pregnant with a promise in her old age, believing God’s words to be true. Elizabeth didn’t laugh at the promise of a child the way her foremother, Sarah, did. She opened up her hands and received what God had to give her, who God planned to give her.
I wonder at the state of Elizabeth’s heart after so many years of disappointment and brokenness, what she refers to in Luke 1:
She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:25
I wonder how, after decades of disgrace, there was still room in her heart for a miracle? How did she not fill the space of longing and brokenness with something else: bitterness, anger, materialism, any idol that would quench the thirst she couldn’t satisfy, any status or business or momentary pleasure?
I think a lot of us are asking God for a miracle this Christmas. We want Him to satisfy a longing, fill a void, bring peace. But as we pray the words, we greedily scurry about like orphans, like children who have no Provider, trying to fill the need ourselves. We pray to be filled, and instead of waiting for his perfect filling, His indwelling, we hunt through garbage cans in back alleys. We’re children of the King, eating scraps. We say we trust Him, yet we act like He doesn’t exist. We act like we’re all alone.
I have done this. I have stuffed food and booze down my gullet, smoked packs of cigarettes, charged sparkly things on credit cards and told myself it was okay because there’s this pain I can’t stop from gnawing me to death.
And I wish I could tell you the pain goes away after __ many years. But, for me it hasn’t. The pain shocked me last week, a tidal wave overwhelming me with physical discomfort: an anger, a hunger, a coming-out-of-my-skin, itching rage. I kept telling Jack, “I’m so uncomfortable, I’m so uncomfortable.” But now, the food’s in check and the booze is gone from my life. So are the cigarettes. So is the charging things I can’t afford. I sat in my brokenness without a means of alleviating the pain, and I wanted to scream and I wanted to hurt people who haven’t felt this hurt, and I didn’t even know what it was I was feeling. Was I manic? Was I having an allergic reaction?
Until I saw Oma’s obituary, the paragraph “She is proceeded in death by . . .” [her] “great grandson Caleb.” Instantly, my eyes flood as I drive down the road, car packed with a sleeping baby and presents and groceries. And the pain of one goodbye seems to trigger the goodbye that never ceases to break me open with longing every Christmas. One goodbye, then all the others roll out: Caleb, Dad, grandparents.
And as we walked behind Oma’s beautiful casket and I held little hands down the center aisle and then through the cemetery, I realized that this hole in my heart is only going to get bigger with every passing year. There will be more goodbyes, more brokenness, many more caskets. And I get to choose: will I try to fill this longing, this ache, with the things of this world? Or, will I follow Elizabeth’s example, and leave that growing space open for God to fill?
What if I have to wait decades to see the longing filled, just like Elizabeth did? And what if I never feel that miracle, this side of heaven? What if I have to sit, like I do this Christmas, with a raw and breaking heart, believing that He works, He is working it all together for good, even if I can’t see it?
This is what I know to be true: the waiting will be worth it. The more empty space I make for Jesus this Christmas, the more I will experience Him. He will come in my mess, my brokenness, my longing. He will respond to me,
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
I am not an orphan. I am not forgotten. He will provide for me. I’m leaving this emptiness open. Raw. Believing.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God . . .
. . . Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven . . .
Matthew 5:3-8, 12
Blessed are we, my friend: to sit with an open, empty heart and wait upon the Lord. Let us all follow after Elizabeth’s example. That way, when the miracle comes, we’ll be ready to receive.
Happy Christmas week,