Behind-the-scenes: Stories of Elizabeth

Michelle Christy | Director of Adult Discipleship

Trinity women will be gathering on Saturday, December 14 for their annual Christmas Gathering. You might be asking, “What does “Stories of Elizabeth” mean? And, “Who is Elizabeth anyway?” If you are wondering, be encouraged you are not alone! The Women’s Ministry Team liked the creative name for our event, but trying to explain it and communicate it has been another thing. Let me explain.

No, Elizabeth is not the formal name for your friend Liz. And, it’s not referencing the four British queens with the name Elizabeth. Nor is it a reference to the Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. For certain all these women would be worthy of our time. Yet for our purposes Elizabeth is a reference to the Elizabeth named in the Gospel of Luke as a part of the Christmas story.

Elizabeth is a relative to Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is thought to be a cousin of Mary’s. In her advanced age Elizabeth miraculously conceives and bears a child. The child she bears John the Baptist, the one known in the Bible as one who would prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. He would go before Christ making people’s hearts ready to receive what Jesus came to do.

Luke says this about Elizabeth in Luke 1:6-7, “…they (Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, together) were both righteous before the God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statures of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.”

Elizabeth endured much hardship, particularly given the Scripture she knew that said those who were faithful would not bear the burden of barrenness (Deuteronomy 7:12-14). Despite the piety of Elizabeth and Zechariah, the couple was childless. Infertility was seen as a sign of divine disfavor, with a great deal of shame attached to childlessness. This shame was felt more acutely by women, as childbearing was the primary function of women in Biblical times.

Luke goes on to say this about Elizabeth in Luke 1:24-25, “After these days…Elizabeth conceived…saying, ‘Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people’…”

We also hear the angel Gabriel when coming to Mary, say, “And behold your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her…” (Luke 1:36)

In addition to Elizabeth’s faithfulness, grief and hardship, Elizabeth experiences and knows the joy of the Lord too.

In the all the weight and mystery of the angel’s message, Mary immediately goes to see Elizabeth. “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” (Like 1:39-40)

When Mary arrives and Elizabeth greets her there is a beautiful exchange of words, blessing and singing.

There is shared experience and seasoned encouragement. You can read about it in Luke 1:39-56 to hear all the beauty!

No doubt we don’t have the whole story. Imagine the conversation between these two women! Oh to have all the details. For sure there was no lack of circumstance and substance to consider, to process and walk together through.

Elizabeth had a wealth of life experience with her God – ups and downs, highs and lows – all embedded in the solid foundation of her relationship with Him that she could offer Mary in the midst of all that life was bringing her way.

So then, who is “Elizabeth”? She is one who has lived a lot of life. She is one who has remained faithful to her God. “Elizabeth” is one who, in all her life experience, both hardship and joy, encourages and blesses the ones coming behind her.

Fast forward a few thousand years to consider the conversation at a recent Women’s Ministry planning meeting. Input from some of the younger generation entered our conversation. They had recently expressed a desire to hear from and know those going before them. There was a stirring and longing on their part for intergenerational connection and context. Alongside this was an idea planted in my spirit this past summer for a way to invite and further include the women of generations before me to a deeper engagement.

Viola! Creative idea birthed – “Stories of Elizabeth”! As we talked about a Christmas gathering, we wondered about using the example in the Christmas narrative of Elizabeth and Mary’s relationship/friendship as way for us to engage the generations together. Away we went – date, schedule, format, food, activity and free-flowing names of women who could fill the role of an “Elizabeth”.

Among many, the “Elizabeths” that will be joining us December 14 are Shirley Van Wechel, Elaine Elgersma, Maryls Van Aartsen, Harriet Kroese and Carole Aykens. These women will share with us how they have experienced God moving in their lives. They will share struggles they have endured and how God was faithful. They will tell us what the community at Trinity has meant to them as well as personal stories and tidbits of encouragement and wisdom.

Women’s Ministries is excited to offer this Christmas opportunity to our women and hope the women of Trinity will find a few hours amidst the holiday crazy to be encouraged and inspired!

And on a grander scale, I wonder what it might look like for each of us to engage a kind of “Elizabeth and Mary” relationship on a regular basis. How might those of us who are more advanced in experience and years offer all of what we know – success and failures – to those coming behind us? How might we seek out someone ahead of us? How might we humble ourselves to receive wisdom from those who walk ahead? We all have someone ahead of us and someone behind us. How could we each have an “Elizabeth” and a “Mary” in our life? If God is prompting you I would be happy to engage in a conversation around this to see how we as a church and individuals might continue to take steps toward this kind of discipleship opportunity.