Happy Monday, or what’s left of it. It was a busy day today, but busy is good. I am posting the next part of Full of Grace. If you’re new to the blog, you can click here to read from the beginning. And if you’re enjoying the story, tell a friend. Thanks so much for stopping by.
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Elizabeth smiles, with fond recollection. Her iyshah, Zechariah. They had been married now for thirty years – a long time for her people. Their life spans had been steadily dropping with every new conqueror they faced. Still they continued to live, to multiply, to bear new generations.
“I wish you had known your dod when he was younger. He was quite the romantic. He would bring me fresh flowers from the field whenever he came to see me. He would tell me stories about the heroes of old and would share how he knew that G-d had not abandoned his people, but had greatness planned for us. He was a young man, full of faith – a faith that did not dissipate even when we married and it was obvious I could not conceive. He prayed and brought offerings to G-d and waited. Still I remained barren. It was as if G-d stopped listening. I don’t think Zechariah ever stopped praying – in general. For the people he ministered to. For the land. For our lost brothers. But I do think part of him stopped praying for us.”
Elizabeth pauses, the fond look lost in sorrow.
“There are moments, Mary, when you will doubt G-d is still listening; when you will doubt you heard him correctly. But don’t ever doubt he is real. Because he is. And he does hear you and just like our forefathers, he will surprise you.
“Your uncle’s lot fell on the Festival of Tabernacles last year. He traveled to Jerusalem then, as he had done for many years. Dressed in the robe of the ephod*, he tied a robe around him and entered the Holy of Holies, where he began to light the incense, while the worshippers prayed outside.
“Then a malakh appeared beside the altar. Zechariah immediately became fearful, thinking perhaps he had sinned before G-d and not accounted for it. But the malakh comforted him and said, ‘Fear not, Zechariah: for G-d has heard your prayer’.
“Imagine, Mary, G-d heard him. G-d heard his prayer: the one he offered for the people – the one he offered for me, years and years ago.
“Then the malahk said, ‘Your wife Elisabeth shall bear you a son, and you will call his name John. You will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and will drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel will he turn to the Lord their G-d. And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”
Elizabeth stops and sighs. As wonderful as the retelling is, it pains her to remember what had become of her husband. She turns her gaze to Mary, her brows furrowed.
“You have to understand…Zechariah had prayed for long without response and I had ceased my monthly flow – and truly there is no excuse for doubting G-d – it’s just sometimes easier to do that than to believe the impossible. G-d gave women greater binah, yes, but don’t ever look down upon you husband because of it. It does not make them weaker; on the contrary, they are stronger for it because they must seek and be in G-d-s presence more.”
She sighs once again and drops back into her chair.
“Zechariah asked the malakh how he would know this, since he was an old man and I was beyond my child-bearing years. This tall, luminescent man said, I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of G-d; I have been sent to speak to you, and give you this good news. But because you would not believe me, you will be mute and deaf until the day these things happen. And that’s what occurred.
“Well, you can imagine the people waiting for Zechariah became worried. Were they actually going to have to pull him out? Had he committed some egregiousness sin?” – Elizabeth chuckles -“You know how people are – always in need of something to talk about, and Zechariah gave them that when he came out unable to speak or hear. Some said he had seen a miracle but others simply chose to believe he had gone senile.
“He finished up his week and came home. He could not tell me what happened but he wrote down what he could and left the rest to G-d. I won’t say I believed him whole-hearted, but I wanted to. I wanted everything he said and I set my heart to it. And when I found out I was with child, it was the happiest moment of my life. Of our lives.”
“Why then did you not say something?” Mary interrupts.
“What did your mother say when you told her?”
Mary doesn’t respond, her face betraying the turmoil of emotion inside her. She doesn’t want to hurt her feeling, but Elizabeth knows – thirty years she was called barren, especially by the ones she loved.
“She didn’t believe you, right?” she offers.
Mary nods, sadly.
“It’s alright. I don’t begrudge her, but sometimes we have to shut out the gossipers and naysayers and let our faith overtake us. This is not a season for doubt – not for me, you or anyone. G-d is doing a mighty work here through us and if I have to stay home until I am showing so that others may believe, then so be it. Does that make sense?”
“Good,” Elizabeth states, patting her niece’s hand. “I’ve told you enough stories for now. Finish eating.”
Mary dutifully obeys.
*From Exodus 28: 31-35, the priest was the wear the blue ephod robe and a rope around his waist when he entered the Holy of Holies, where G-d was said to be enthroned. The robe contained bells at the hem, so that the people outside, who were not permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, could hear the priest moving about, fulfilling his duties. If G-d was not pleased with the priest and killed him, then the bells stopped and the people knew to pull his body out.