Elizabeth and Zechariah

Tuesday Reflection from Sr. Rosemary Finnegan, O.P.
Readings from: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/121923.cfm

Today we heard the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and how they were touched by God after years of, as the Scripture says, being barren.  Who knows how much they cried out to God for a child, both individually and with one another? Who knows how much they yearned for the blessing of a child? Not be able to have children must have been very difficult for Zechariah and Elizabeth, as it is in our age, too, for many couples. In the providence of God, however, God used Elizabeth and Zechariah to continue the work of our salvation.  When a son was born to them, they rejoiced and the world came to know him as John the Baptist.

We, too, can experience a barrenness, or emptiness, in our relationships with others, especially during this time of year. There’s the pain and loneliness that comes because of death, conflict, and separation of many kinds.  We patiently hope and trust, like Elizabeth and Zachariah, that God somehow will touch that pain in time with his grace.  Through it all, God is with us, and we rejoice.

If our relationship with God yearns for new life, the church always offers us the sacrament of reconciliation.  Opening our hearts to God’s forgiveness can bring that new life.

Such new life happened in 1994 when two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach in a large orphanage.  Nearing December, the teachers planned to tell the orphans the traditional Christmas story which the children would hear for the first time. The teachers told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem, finding no room in the inn, and having to go to a stable. There Jesus was born and placed in the manger.

Throughout the story, the children listened with amazement.  As a follow-up activity, each child was given cardboard to make a crude manager, strips of paper for straw, some flannel material for the baby’s blanket and pieces of felt to make a baby doll.  All went well until the teacher got to the table where little 6 year old Misha sat.

Looking at the little boy’s manger, the teacher saw not one but two babies in the manger.  The translator asked the lad why there were two babies. Misha then accurately retold the Christmas story until he came to the part where Mary put Jesus in the manger. Then he started making up his own ending to the story. This is what Misha said:

“And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no momma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay.

Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. Since I wanted to stay with Jesus so much I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift.

I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “Keeping me warm will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” When I got into the manger, Jesus looked at me and told me I could stay with him – for always.”

When Misha finished his story, he cried.  The little orphan knew had found someone who would never abandon him, someone who would always stay with him.[1]

These stories of a barren couple and an orphan cause us to remember that when God touches people either in simple, unexpected ways, like Misha, or dramatic, unexpected ways, like Elizabeth and Zachariah, their lives are changed forever.

As we prepare for Christmas, always rejoicing in the Lord in all circumstances, are we open to God touching our life in some unexpected way?

[1] https://www.epm.org/resources/1999/Dec/1/russian-christmas-story-always/