Luke 1:5-25 (ESV)

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 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 for the Lord a people prepared.” 18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

This section begins and ends with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Elizabeth was a descendent of a priestly family, and she married a priest named Zechariah. The couple did the best they could to live according to God’s laws and principles, yet Elizabeth and Zechariah had no child. Elizabeth was both old and barren. In that culture, barrenness was one of the greatest pains a woman could experience. Women married young and set out to have children right away. The more children one had, the more status she had in society. In addition, children brought financial and physical security in old age. When Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, was serving as priest, he was chosen “by lot” to offer incense before God. Because there were so many priests, this honor fell to each priest only once in his lifetime. While Zechariah was praying for the nation, an angel appeared to him and announced that he and Elizabeth would have a child. Their son would be the forerunner of the Messiah, and he would be great before God. Zechariah just didn’t believe the message of the angel. No way could his wife conceive a child at their age. He asked for a “sign.” And God gave him a sign, though probably not one he was hoping for. He was unable to speak until the child was born and named.

Can you imagine how many weeks, months, and years Elizabeth probably prayed, hoping God would deliver her and grace her with at least one child. But for decades, God said “no.” She probably never imagined that God would grant her the honor of mothering the one who prepared God’s people for the Messiah. After she conceived, she stayed in seclusion for five months—almost half a year! What pain are you enduring today? Have you struggled with the same affliction month after month, year after year, even decade after decade, only to hear a “no” from God? If so, you are in good company. Not only Elizabeth, but countless others recorded in Scripture lived with  tremendous pain. All who follow Jesus can know for certain that one day our pain will come to a final end. We will see why God allowed every difficult moment, and we will thank him for them. Let this truth motivate you to joy in the midst of your difficulties today.