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Astonishment and joy: Luke 1 as told from the perspective of Elizabeth

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Abstract

This article, a dramatic, scholarly monologue, examines the events that Luke 1 recounts, retelling them from the viewpoint of Elizabeth, the elderly wife of Zechariah, a priest. It uses a literary method and presents the monologue as an eyewitness account.1 Luke 1 frames its central events from a female and gynocentric perspective.2 As a participant in the infancy narrative in Luke 1, Elizabeth should figure predominantly in scholarly articles and sermons. Surprisingly, she does not. Instead, scholarly, lectionary and congregational attention focuses primarily on Zechariah and Mary, two of the other speaking characters. Consequently, this article seeks to showcase, honour, and analyse Elizabeth, an overlooked yet pivotal character in Luke's gospel. Via a dramatic monologue, it lets her speak about the astonishing recent events in her life and thereby invites readers and hearers to share her joy, surely a singular theme in Luke's gospel.
Original Research
doi:10.4102/ids.v47i1.77hp://www.indieskriig.org.za
Astonishment and joy: Luke 1 as told from the
perspecve of Elizabeth
Author:
Robin Gallaher Branch1,2
Aliaons:
1Faculty of Theology, North-
West University, South Africa
2Department of Bible and
Theology, Victory University,
Memphis, United States
Correspondence to:
Robin Gallaher Branch
Email:
rgbranch@victory.edu
Postal address:
Victory University; 255
North Highland, Memphis,
TN 38111; USA;
901-320-9700 x 1091
Dates:
Received: 25 Apr. 2012
Accepted: 11 Aug. 2012
Published: 25 July 2013
How to cite this arcle:
Branch, R.G., 2013,
‘Astonishment and joy:
Luke 1 as told from the
perspecve of Elizabeth’,
In die Skriig/In Luce Verbi
47(1), Art. #77, 10 pages.
hp://dx.doi.org/10.4102/
ids.v47i1.77
Copyright:
© 2013. The Authors.
Licensee: AOSIS
OpenJournals. This work
is licensed under the
Creave Commons
Aribuon License.
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This article, a dramatic, scholarly monologue, examines the events that Luke 1 recounts, retelling
them from the viewpoint of Elizabeth, the elderly wife of Zechariah, a priest. It uses a literary
method and presents the monologue as an eyewitness account.1 Luke 1 frames its central events
from a female and gynocentric perspective.2 As a participant in the infancy narrative in Luke 1,
Elizabeth should gure predominantly in scholarly articles and sermons. Surprisingly, she does
not. Instead, scholarly, lectionary and congregational attention focuses primarily on Zechariah
and Mary, two of the other speaking characters. Consequently, this article seeks to showcase,
honour, and analyse Elizabeth, an overlooked yet pivotal character in Luke’s gospel. Via a
dramatic monologue, it lets her speak about the astonishing recent events in her life and thereby
invites readers and hearers to share her joy, surely a singular theme in Luke’s gospel.
Verwondering en blydskap: Lukas 1 hervertel vanuit die perspektief van Elisabet. Hierdie
artikel, ‘n wetenskaplike monoloog in dramavorm, ondersoek die gebeure volgens Lukas 1. Dit
word hervertel vanuit die perspektief van Elisabet, die bejaarde vrou van die priester Sagaria.
’n Literêre metode word gebruik en die monoloog word as ’n ooggetuieverslag aangebied.
Lukas 1 se hoofgebeure word vanuit ‘n vroulike perspektief asook dié van ongebore babas
(‘gynocentric’) gekontekstualiseer. As inherent deel van die jeugvertelling van Lukas 1
behoort Elisabet oorwegend in wetenskaplike artikels en preke te gureer. Dit is verrassend
dat dit nie gebeur nie. In wetenskaplike leesstukke en tydens gemeentelike byeenkomste
word hoofsaaklik op Sagaria en Maria, die ander twee hoofkarakters, gefokus. Elisabet is
’n miskende sleutelkarakter in die Evangelie van Lukas en daarom poog hierdie artikel om
Elisabet uit te lig, eervol te erken en te analiseer. Deur dramatiese monoloog kry Elisabet
die geleentheid om oor die verstommende gebeure van haar onlangse lewe te praat. Sy nooi
hiermee die lesers en toehoorders uit om in haar vreugde te deel – sekerlik ’n buitengewone
tema in die Lukasevangelie.
Seng and preliminary instrucons
The Announcer and six other people come on stage. They form a line and all have scripts.
Announcer: ‘Good morning. You are about to see and hear a dramatic monologue based on Luke 1.3 We
will rst read the chapter as it is rendered in the NIV, the New International Version.’
The Announcer begins with Luke 1:1–5.
The other six follow with these passages: Luke 1:5–25; 26–38; 39–45; 46–46; 57–66; and 67–80.
When the six have nished, they leave the stage. The Announcer remains on stage.
Announcer: ‘As you just heard, the chapter’s key characters are Zechariah a priest; Gabriel, an angel;
Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah; Mary, the kinswoman of Elizabeth; and John, the infant
son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.4
1.This is my third published drama. The rst was ‘Teaching the Old Testament Book of Proverbs Via a Play’ (Branch 2005:57–69). The
Society of Biblical Literature Forum, hp://www.sbl-site.org/Arcle.aspx?ArcleId=488 also published it online. The second was ‘He is
Risen! A Play Based on Acts 1:1–12’ (Branch 2012:229–258).
2.Bauckham (2002:47) calls Luke 1:5–80 ‘a gynocentric text’. The infancy narrave in Luke sets the stage for everything else that follows
in the gospel (Murphy 2005:197). Bauckham (ibid:51), wring about the interacon of Mary and Elizabeth, says that it ‘is undoubtedly
as the mothers of their unborn sons that they are of central importance in Luke’s narrave, but it is from their female perspecves
that we view the central events of the narrave’ (Bauckham’s italics). However, Bauckham, in his chapter on Elizabeth and Mary
(Bauckham ibid:47-76), gives scant analysis to Elizabeth and concentrates solely on Mary.
3.Like the rst chapter of 1 Samuel, Luke 1 contains the perspecve of women. ‘Astonishment and joy: Luke 1 as told from the perspecve
of Elizabeth’ is creave, religious drama. Creave religious drama can become an eecve tool ‘that just might open the door to new
interest in the great biblical truths’ (Barragar 1981:20). Creave drama, as the Children’s Theatre Associaon of America denes it, is
‘an improvisaonal, nonexhibional, process-centered form of drama in which parcipants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact,
and reect upon human experience’ (Barragar ibid:16, quong from ‘Redening Creave Dramacs: A CTAA Project,’ August 17, 1977,
a paper from the Redenions Commiee of the Children’s Theatre Associaon of America.) Lostracco & Wilkerson (2008:iii–vi) note
that the main elements of a story are the central idea, character, conict, point of view, seng, language and tone.
4.Elizabeth and Mary are the principal persons in Luke 1. Although the chapter begins and ends with Zechariah, he is mute because of a
loss of speech in its middle porons. This gives his wife, Elizabeth, a chance to occupy centre stage (Marn 1982:394).
Original Research
doi:10.4102/ids.v47i1.77hp://www.indieskriig.org.za
‘We have been invited today to the home of
Elizabeth and Zechariah.5 It is in the hill country
of Judea. Imagine6 with me their simple stone
house in a small village.7 It has a couple of wooden
tables and chairs. [The Announcer gestures stage left
and stage right.] The view from a window looks out
on a pasture where sheep graze.8 [The Announcer
gestures toward the audience.]
‘The time is around 4 BC. Herod is king in Judea.
The hated Romans occupy the land.9
‘A great event has just taken place in their small
village. Elizabeth will tell you about it.’10 [The
Announcer exits.]
Elizabeth enters from upstage left11. A separate room where
John sleeps is stage left. She wears a new shawl.12 She is about
68 years old and yet lovely and energetic. She bustles. She is
full of joy. She has an expressive, mobile face.
Introducon
[Elizabeth enters smiling. She has fully recovered from the birth of
her son. She greets the members of the audience warmly, condently.]
Hello. I’m Elizabeth.13 My baby son, John, is asleep. He was
5.This monologue is a religious drama. Drama, in general, may persuade or provoke
even whilst it entertains. Drama may portray a slice of life in a meframe. It also
‘oers provocave ideas about the life it portrays, and it provides an imaginave
extension of its possibilies’ (DiYanni 2008:901). Religious drama oen invesgates
these elements (Edyvean 1970:17):
1. Humankind’s human condion.
2. Humankind’s spiritual condion.
3. The God-man relaonship.
4. The meaning of an experience that a person undergoes.
5. The limits of a human being’s power.
6. The feelings that a person experiences.
7. A person’s self-examinaon.
6.Imaginaon is a marvellous teaching tool and is useful for training adults and children
in the faith (see Stonehouse 1998:158). Loader (2007:ix–x) draws on imaginaon, a
principal component of all drama including this monologue, in his short book that
highlights the lives (and wrings) of signicant characters in the New Testament:
Jesus, Paul and John. Throughout the book, he engages senses like smell and sound
and brings up economic factors like unemployment, slavery and the fragility of life.
He reminds readers of the importance of the seasons and the disparity between the
rich and poor as well as the dierent perspecves of youth and age. Loader (2007:x)
sees each chapter as ‘an exercise in imaginaon’ and states that a goal for each is ‘to
imagine our way into’ their context.
7.The seng is where the events of the drama occur (Lostracco & Wilkerson 2008:31).
What I like parcularly about Loader’s work is how he uses sources, facts and scholarly
work and manages to invite us back into the biblical world as parcipants.
8.This short descripon, sketched in a few words with a language paintbrush, creates a
mental image, a sensory impression, in the minds of readers and hearers (Lostracco
& Wilkerson 2008:37).
9.Zechariah, Elizabeth and their son John link the Old Testament period to God’s new
work in New Testament mes. It seems that God’s silence has lasted some 400 years.
At least there has been no further revelaon of a prophet or an angel unl Gabriel
comes to Zechariah in the Temple (see Geldenhuys 1979:60). Anna, however, is a
named prophetess (Lk 2:36−38).
10.Luke’s narrative holds a three-fold power, according to Kuist (1948:289): ‘The
power to aract and to hold the reverent aenon of young and old; the power to
communicate such signicant creave impulses to Chrisan art and music; (and)
the power to sustain and to out-live such acute and protracted historical cricism.’
11.Elizabeth is the monologue’s major character. She is crucial to the re-telling of Luke
1. Furthermore, the story revolves around what she says and does (Lostracco &
Wilkerson 2008:13). She is a dynamic character, rather than a flat one, because
she grows and changes during the story, she expresses many emotions and the
audience gets to know her (see Lostracco & Wilkerson ibid:15).
12.Elizabeth wears rusc clothes – probably a loose dress or long skirt, an over blouse
and cloth belt. She has sandals. She lovingly touches her new shawl throughout the
monologue. She is beauful, although elderly and wrinkled.
13.Luke 1 gives textual importance to women. Marn (1982:395) notes the ‘feminine
character of the symbols’ in the chapter and acknowledges ‘the almost universal
neglect of these feminine symbols by Protestant male interpreters’. An impetus in
my research into the character of Elizabeth and in wring this monologue about her
is that I have never heard a sermon on her life. Therefore, I try, in this monologue, to
honour her contribuon to the biblical text. The ‘tone’ in this monologue is favorable
(see Lostracco & Wilkerson 2008:9). I like her very much. I also respect and admire
her. I understand her longing for a child and her joy in giving her husband a son. To
me, Luke 1 presents her with much kindness and sensivity as someone whom God
has used prominently – and as someone delighully amazed about this use!
born last week and circumcised today. Zechariah, my husband,
is in town talking, talking, talking. Mary, my kinswoman, left
two weeks ago. The house is deserted, and I have a chance to
tell you a bit about what has happened in our lives.14 I’ll start
with who we are, our background.15 Then I’ll tell you about
Zechariah’s experience in the Temple nine months ago. I’ll talk
about our marriage over the years and now. Mary visited
us; you surely want to know about her. And then I’ll come
around to what happened today at the circumcision.16 It has
all been so unexpected.17 I am astonished at the work of the
Holy One of Israel. I am full of joy because I and my family
gure in his ongoing plan.18 Oh, and this is my new shawl.19
Zechariah gave it to me today.20 [She touches her shawl to her
cheek and smiles; it is a loving gesture.]
Our background
[Elizabeth walks and smiles.] I married at age 13. That was 55
years ago. I married a member of my tribe, the tribe of Levi.21
[Proudly.] I am a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses.22
I married Zechariah, who belongs to the priestly division of
Abijah.23 He was 17 and handsome. [She smiles fondly.]
[Elizabeth addresses the guests to her house and gestures.] We
live in the hill country of Judea in a village about ve miles
west of Jerusalem.2 4 We are people of integrity and some
14.The narrative is in the first person in this monologue. Elizabeth uses pronouns
like I and me. In literary language, this is a rst person point of view (Lostracco &
Wilkerson 2008:25).
15.The group of people in the birth stories of John and Jesus – Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary,
Joseph, Anna, Simeon and the Magi – exhibit the character traits of righteousness
and faith. They are praccal people of prayer – and prayer involves intercession,
listening, long waits, discerning God’s voice and acon. They are not powerful or
famous people and, with the excepon of the Magi, are not wealthy (Dean 1983:22).
Elizabeth’s monologue details a sequence of events. This sequence is the plot of
the drama (Lostracco & Wilkerson 2008:19).
16.Karris (1985:352) maintains that Luke’s soteriology, as the infancy narraves of John
and Jesus express it, diers from that of other New Testament writers who emphasise
expiation and the transcendence of God. For example, in Paul’s soteriology, a
transcendent God cleanses away sin via the blood of Jesus (Rm 3:24–25). Luke, in
contrast, presents a God who is present during life – from birth, through sin and
then in death. This ‘with-ness,’ Karris (ibid:352) argues, is designed to appeal to
Theophilus and subsequent readers. It shows that God meets us on a deep level and
saves us in Jesus.
17.See Wright 2004:7.
18.Scholars, amongst them William Barclay (1956:8), note the prevalence of joy in
Luke 1. Barclay (1956:9) adds that great joy is proporonal to a great task.
19.Luke does not menon that Zechariah gives Elizabeth a shawl. I inserted it for several
reasons. Firstly, it gives Elizabeth a prop that helps the audience imagine her character.
Secondly, husbands throughout history have given their wives presents at the births
of children. My imaginave elaboraon, by including a shawl, follows the Jewish
tradion of Midrash. Midrash is creave exegesis, because it combines wordplay,
storytelling skill and interpretaon. These elements, when they come together,
‘liberate pleasure, creavity, and knowledge’ (Marx 2000:16).
20.Luke 1 brims with human elements: the longing for a child, doubt, joy, faith, unbelief,
friendship, praise and danger. It combines the human and the divine and does not
present them as an oxymoron. Instead, the text accepts the miraculous. It presents
the idea that the humanity of Jesus saves humanity and does not rescue it from
being human (see Hann 1986:297).
21.The biblical text emphasises that the baby, John, to come from this union is of priestly
stock and in the great heritage of Israel’s prophets (see Fitzmyer 1981:317).
22.Signicantly, Elisheba (Elizabeth) was the name of Aaron’s wife (Ex 6:23) (Nolland
1989:26). To be a priest’s daughter and married to a priest was a double disncon.
Geldenhuys gives a colloquial expression that describes an excellent woman: she
deserves to be married to a priest (Geldenhuys 1979:62). Zechariah and Elizabeth
represent the best of Israel. They show that there was true piety, based not on
meculous legalism but on pracced prayer, in Israel (Dean 1983:20).
23.See Luke 1:5–6. The division of Abijah is the eighth (Morris 1988:75).
24.According to tradion, Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in Ein Karem, about ve miles
west of Jerusalem and 80 miles from Nazareth (Holy Apostles Convent 1989:119).
Page 2 of 10
Original Research
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Page 3 of 10
education.25 We both can read and write. This is very important.
Zechariah as a priest reads the scrolls and studies them.26 We
determined immediately in our marriage to walk uprightly
in the sight of God and each other. We decided to observe all
the Lord’s commands and regulations. We have tried with all
our heart to please him.27
I guess any marriage has its hurting point, its tender or
sensitive issues. Ours was my barrenness.28 We prayed. I fasted.
We sought the Lord. Month after month. Year after weary year.
No child. Here in Israel, childlessness is considered a curse.29
I was blamed.30 My neighbours talked about me rst behind
my back and then to my face. Over the years, my friendships
dwindled.31 [This is obviously very hard to say. Elizabeth cries;
the hurt is raw and real.]
[Elizabeth is very concerned; her mobile face expresses much
sorrow.] I was afraid Zechariah would divorce me. You
probably know the story of Hannah. She longed for a child
and her husband Elkanah took a second wife in order to have
children. Peninnah had many children and made Hannah’s
life miserable.32 The Lord heard Hannah’s prayer and she
gave birth to Samuel. Zechariah never divorced me, and for
that I am so grateful. Instead he chose to share my shame.
But we could not meet each other’s eyes; for years there was
silence between us.33 [She hangs her head.]
Zechariah
[Elizabeth seems to shake herself. She smiles and touches the shawl
with tenderness.] Now I will tell you a bit about Zechariah.34 I
25.The biblical text emphasises the couple’s integrity, faith and advanced age. The
uprightness of Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary shines rather than do any trappings
of wealth, fame or power (see Dean 1983:22). Green (1997:61) observes that
the descripon of Zechariah and Elizabeth introduces the readers to the world of
‘rst-century Palesnian Jewish piety’ because of its ‘references to prayer, worship,
fasng, and expectant waing’.
26.Bauckham (2002:71) thinks that Zechariah and Elizabeth did not have high status,
but were amongst the many priests who lived amongst the peasant populaon. He
(Bauckham ibid:71) argues that Luke 1:36 points dubiously to Mary’s connecon
to the priesthood, especially since priestly descent came through the male line.
27.Zechariah and Elizabeth represent the best of Israel. They show that there was true
piety, based not on meculous legalism but on pracced prayer, in Israel (Dean
1983:20) – see Luke 1:5–6. Nonetheless, the couple’s barrenness seems to indicate
that ‘God seemed to have neglected their dogged delity to him’ (Wansbrough
2007:17) – at least at rst glance. Because of their advanced ages, no doubt their
neighbours and society treated them as “has-beens”, ready to sink into decrepitude
and oblivion’ (Wansbrough 2007:19).
28.Conict, in this dramac monologue, ‘results from a cause and eect relaonship
between events’ (Lostracco & Wilkerson 2008:19).
29.See Harpers Bible Diconary 1985:161 and Genesis 20:18.
30.Barrenness is the essenal social fact about Elizabeth and her great, ongoing disgrace
(Bauckham 2002:72). Barrenness is an Old Testament paern in the stories of Sarai
or Sarah, Rachel, Hannah and the wife of Manoa (see Gn 18:10−15; Gn 30:102;
Jdg 13:1−5).
31.Ryken suggests a number of reasons for suering. Somemes suering is for the sake
of righteousness. Somemes sin causes suering. Somemes suering results from
the sins of others. ‘And somemes God allows us to suer because he wants to be
gloried through our suering’ (Ryken 2009:18). The biblical text indicates that the
suering of this couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, leads to a miracle that glories God.
32.See 1 Samuel 1. Elizabeth’s story also resembles that of Sarah who longed for a child
and conceived when she was 89 or 90, well past childbearing age (Gen 18:1–15).
33.Morris (1988:75) writes that ‘their childless state (was) hard for them to understand,
for people believed that God would bless faithful servants by giving them children’.
34.The text presents Zechariah ‘as an Abraham-like gure’ (Brown 1988a:483).
call him an old coot!35 And he is! He has a bristly white beard.
He has to have the last word! He is always right! Over the
years he became more and more precise.
[She pauses and cocks her head.] Well, those are the ways he
was. Zechariah, my husband, is much different now. But I get
ahead of myself. I’ve studied my husband for years and tried
to please him. He wants his meals on time, and his priestly
garments laundered just so. On the one hand, he is scholar
and a man of prayer. He loves the Lord, the Holy One of
Israel. He believes the prophets; he sings the psalms. Yet, on
the other hand he is a man of facts. The facts. The facts. He
believes facts. Well, in these last nine months, he recognises
that miracles are facts. [Elizabeth expresses wonderment; her face
lights up.] Zechariah’s changed. But I’ll get to that.
The me in the Temple
[Elizabeth continues. She smiles and expresses excitement.] Now
I’ll tell you when our lives started to change.36 Temple
assignments are drawn by lots. Zechariah is of the order
of Abijah, one of the 24 shifts in the management of the
Temple; each had a shift of a week twice a year.37 We went
to Jerusalem together. Zechariah loved his service. He loved
praying for Israel. His temperament was such that he took
his job very seriously.38 This was the honour of a lifetime;
Zechariah was very excited.
He was chosen by lot to administer incense outside the Holy
of Holies.39 I waited outside with many other worshippers.
As the ofciating priest, Zechariah’s job was to clean the altar
of incense and to offer fresh incense.40
35.In an earlier exegesis of Zechariah’s encounter with Gabriel, I wrote that ‘Zechariah’s
prophecy exudes joy. This is amazing, because Luke introduces Zechariah as
something of an old grump’ (Branch 2009:35). In this monologue, I imagine what
it must have been like to live with him as his wife. Zechariah is a round character,
because he changes from the me of his encounter with Gabriel to the me of his
prophec song.
36.The encounters in Luke 1 smack of realism and theological insights. Theology
technically the study of God – expands with the stories in Luke 1. Steuernagel
(2003:103) points out that theology begins with unexpected encounters, encounters
set in the messy connes of day-to-day lives – see Luke 1:8–9. Noce that in
recounting Luke 1:5–25, I pause frequently. Pausing avoids the tendency when
reading and recing to race through a text. I hear Gabriel’s encounters rst with
Zechariah and then with Mary as lasng longer than the 45 seconds or fewer it takes
to read each aloud. We know the biblical text in both testaments for its brevity. A
dramac monologue presents human reacons that are normal, possible and/or
implied in the text. Human reacons take me.
37.See Nolland (1989:27). Geldenhuys (1979:62–63) gives several insights into priests
and their dues. Evidently, at the me of Zechariah, there were thousands of priests
and a priest could not burn incense more than once in his lifeme. Priests oered
incense twice a day, in the morning and then again at 3pm. As an ociang priest,
Zechariah could enter the holy place, the space inside the Temple and just in front
of the Holy of Holies. The high priest alone could enter the Holy of Holies once a
year only, on the Great Day of Atonement. Barclay (1956:3–4) also outlines Zechariah’s
priestly dues. Every morning and evening, he made a sacrice for the naon of
Israel. The sacrice involved a burnt oering of a year-old male lamb without spot or
blemish. Before he made the sacrice, he oered incense, enabling the sacrices
to ascend to God as a sweet-smelling savour.
38.Nevertheless, Zechariah also listened in prayer and in doing his duty. He gave himself
the chance to hear God’s voice. Barclay (1956:5) notes that God’s voice comes to
those who listen for it, as did Zechariah.
39.It was the apex of Zechariah’s career. Once a priest was chosen for Temple service,
he was not eligible to serve again (Ryken 2009:20). Fitzmyer (1981:317–318) gives the
aernoon as the me. A priest could serve throughout his life without serving in
the Temple. However, if the lot fell to him, it was the highlight of his life. Zechariah
certainly ‘was thrilled to the core of his being,Barclay (1956:4) writes. Green (1997:69)
says that God chose Zechariah singularly for this special and blessed honour.
40.Fitzmyer (1981:323–324) says that priests oered incense at the table of incense.
The table was ‘in the holy place’ before the curtain separang the holy place from
the most holy place (Ex 30:1–6; Nolland 1989:27–28).
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[Throughout this section, Elizabeth acts out Zechariah’s encounter
and emotions.] Well, Zechariah was meticulously performing
his duties when an angel of the Lord appeared to him standing
at the right side of the altar of incense.41 Zechariah was
startled and then afraid.42 He wrote me this later, because he
has been unable to speak. But again I get ahead of myself.
What I am telling you is what he wrote down for me when
we came home.
The angel then said to him, ‘Do not be afraid,43 Zechariah;
your prayer has been heard.’44
Zechariah wondered what prayer.45 Then the angel was specic.
‘Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give
him the name John.’46
Zechariah gasped. The angel continued. ‘He will be a joy and
delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.’47
Zechariah gasped again. The angel kept on. ‘He will be great
in the sight of the Lord.’48
Then the angel gave some requirements about how to raise
this boy, John. The angel said that ‘he is never to take wine or
other fermented drink’.49
Zechariah’s mouth was open and his eyes were big!50 I think
the angel chuckled a bit. [She laughs, too.] The angel continued
41.Morris (1988:76) comments that, because people facing the east oen give direcons
in the Bible from their standpoints, it is possible that the angel stood between
the altar of incense and the golden candlesck. Angelic visitaons that announced
births are common throughout the Old Testament (see Gen 16:10–11, 17:15–19,
18:10–15 and 25:23 as well as Jud 13:3–21) (Bock 1994:36).
42.Zechariah is facing a crisis. A crisis is an element in drama. A play is the actualisaon
of a segment and a slice of life in a set me. Characters who act and speak in ways
relevant to the situation – often a crisis that has captured them and which is
happening to them right now (Ehrensperger 1962:23) – bring it to life (see Lk 1:11).
43.Conrad (1985:660–663) explores Old and New Testament texts containing ‘fear
not.’ The phrase is used to comfort a dying woman in labour (Gen 35:17 and 1
Sam 4:20). God addresses Abram with the phrase in the vision that Genesis 15:1
recorded. Gabriel uses the same words to Zechariah in Luke 1. Conrad (ibid:661)
says t hat ‘ fear not’ in the New Testament ‘s eeks to eliminate the fear arous ed
not only by the appearance of the numinous but also by other circumstances
associated with the announcement of the birth of a son’. These normal anxiees
could include the life of the mother during gestaon and labour, the reputaon
of the mother, the reacon of the general populace and the responsibilies of
parenng a child with a divine desny. Conrad (ibid:663) sees Gabriel’s declaraon
to Zechariah to ‘fear not’ (Lk 1:13) as words of comfort similar to those of the Lord
to Abram in Genesis 15:1.
44.Gabriel menoned Elizabeth by name, suggesng that Zechariah was praying for
her (Ryken 2009:21). Gabriel appeared to Daniel many centuries before (see Dan
9:20–21). Brown (1988a:485) writes, ‘There can be lile doubt, then, that Luke intends
us to see a parallelism between Gabriel’s appearance to Daniel and his appearance
to Zechariah’ (see Lk 1:11–17).
45.As the ociang priest represenng the people of Israel, his prayers were to include
prayers for Israel’s spiritual redempon (Geldenhuys 1979:63).
46.The name John indicates that God will grace the child (see Fitzmyer 1981:325). His
name means ‘God has been gracious’ and its cognate means ‘prayer for favour’
(Nolland 1989:29). According to Bede, ‘Whenever in the Scriptures a name is imposed
or changed … by God, it is indicave of great praise and virtue’ (Just 2003:9). Ambrose
writes that the angel announced not greatness of body but of soul regarding John
(Just 2003:9).
47.Green (1997:74) notes the escalaon of the angel’s remarks about John. John will be
important to Zechariah, then to many and nally in the sight of the Lord. Eventually,
John’s importance ‘can be appreciated only against the backdrop of what God has
been doing, and how God is even now bringing his aim to its consummaon in part
through his human agent John’ (Green ibid:112).
48.Bock (1994:37) says that the major message of Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah and to
Luke’s readers ‘is that God will do what he promises in his own way’.
49.The area’s common strong drink was barley beer (Fitzmyer 1981:326).
50.They should be because the angel heaped accolade upon accolade and blessing upon
blessing on the couple and this child (Ryken 2009:23).
with this news about our son: ‘He will be lled with the Holy
Spirit even from his mother’s womb.’
And I can tell you that that has happened! [Elizabeth says this
with great joy.]
Then the angel concluded about the purpose of our son and
the reaction of some people of Israel. Our son, the angel said,
‘will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their
God.’ Our son will go before the Lord, in the spirit and power
of Elijah.51 Our son will turn the hearts of the fathers to their
children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.
Our son will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.52
The news overwhelmed Zechariah. [She pauses and paces.] He
paced back and forth in front of the altar of incense. The angel
waited patiently. Zechariah undoubtedly pulled his beard,
which is what he does when he is thinking through something.
[Elizabeth turns stage left.] Zechariah turned to the angel and
said, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife
is well along in years.’53
[Elizabeth faces the audience.] That is not something you say to
an angel!54 I could have told him that!55 Zechariah has since
learned a hard lesson.56 [Elizabeth turns stage right.] The angel
took umbrage57 and said this: ‘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.’58
[Elizabeth faces the audience.] Then the angel decreed
a punishment for Zechariah! Zechariah has not been
reprimanded for decades! The angel said to Zechariah, ‘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 proper time.’59
51.John will not be a reincarnation of Elijah but will be like that firebrand prophet
in temperament, mannerisms and unequivocal message (see Fitzmyer 1981:321).
52.The angel’s descripon of John’s role indicated he would ‘do much more than an
ordinary prophet,’ Geldenhuys (1979:65), rightly says (see Lk 1:16–18).
53.Zechariah, like his wife Elizabeth, is a dynamic character in this monologue. Oen
what characters say is more revealing than their acons (Lostracco & Wilkerson
2008:17). Signicantly, Zechariah does not believe Gabriel, God’s representave,
that a restorave miracle could happen to him and to his wife Elizabeth in their old
age (Branch 2009:35, 37).
54.Nolland (1989:33) surely understates the enormity of Zechariah’s statement when
he writes about ‘the impropriety of Zechariah’s queson’.
55.Morris (1988:78) observes that Gideon and Hezekiah (Jud 6:36–39 and 2 Kgs 20:8)
also asked for a sign – but Zechariah’s tone and spirit were dierent. Speaking
from unbelief, Zechariah ‘reminds the angel that both he and his wife are old (his
I is emphac). Babies are not born to people like them. The angel retorts with an
emphac I of his own as he discloses his name,’ Morris (ibid:78) says.
56.One view about Zechariah’s response to Gabriel is that Zechariah’s own faith worked
against him. He did not believe that he was worthy – although Gabriel and his sender,
God, did – and was punished for his scepcism (Holy Apostles Convent 1989:126).
Green (1997:63) comments that here in the story the tables turn on Zechariah in
favour of Elizabeth. She is introduced as barren and disgraced, but becomes pregnant
and is restored to a posion of honour at the close of the chapter.
57.See Branch (2009:35). Wright (2004:7) expresses it as: ‘We can almost see the
angel pung his hands on his hips and telling Zechariah o for presuming to doubt
his word.’
58.Zechariah became mute, arguably as did Daniel (Dan 10:15–17; see Brown 1988a:487).
Gabriel’s name means ‘man of God’ (Geldenhuys 1979:67) or, according to Bede,
‘strength of God’ (Just 2003:13).
59.Silence descends immediately upon Zechariah. He is unable to pronounce the priestly
blessing as Elizabeth soon recounts (Nolland 1989:33).
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Then the angel left. Zechariah tidied up the area around the
altar and came out to see us worshippers. He was very dazed.
He could not speak. He looked for me. I pushed forward in
the crowd and came to him. He took my hand. Another priest
pronounced the blessing.60 We all knew something profound
had happened in the Temple.61 [Elizabeth’s face shows concern.]
We walked the distance back to our lodgings. Zechariah
was alternately crying, lled with emotion, trying to talk,
remorseful, and skipping! I couldn’t believe what I was
seeing. My husband was skipping! I fed him dinner. He went
to sleep with a smile on his face.
[She picks up the pace of the story.] His duties at the Temple
lasted a few more days. Everybody avoided him, because
he couldn’t speak. We walked home from Jerusalem and his
confusion seemed to lift once we got home. He brought out
a writing tablet.
[Elizabeth gets more and more excited, more and more joyful
throughout this portion. Her voice gets louder and louder, too.] He
wrote me the angel Gabriel’s words. I rejoiced! I believed!
They concerned me, too! I became the big noise in our
small house. We hugged. We kissed. We prayed together.
We thanked the Lord. We were secluded in our house for
a second honeymoon period. Our neighbours kept their
distance. They thought we were odd before – and now they
thought we were really odd!
[Slowly.] And I became pregnant.62 [Elizabeth is full of wonder
and adoration.]
I hid myself for ve complete months and worshipped the
Holy One of Israel.63 I did not tell anyone of my joy.64 No one
except Zechariah knew I was pregnant. Truly, my pregnancy is
a miracle, an answer to the prayers of Zechariah in the Temple
and our prayers throughout our marriage.65 My shame is taken
away. I am like Sarah although I am younger than she!
and enjoying my husband again and bouncing a baby boy
on my knee. Truly with God nothing is impossible!66
60.It was customary for an ociang priest to bless the worshippers. Zechariah, because
of his muteness, could not pronounce the blessing (see Fitzmyer 1981:320).
61.Ryken (2009:25) rightly sees the humour in the situaon. He (2009:26) comments:
‘Poor Zechariah! He had just heard the greatest news that anyone had heard in about
four centuries, but he wasn’t able to tell anyone about it. All he could do was make
hand signals. But just imagine trying to play charades with Gabriel’s prophecy!’
62.Luke tells the story of two miraculous births: ‘Zechariah and Elizabeth, in their old
age and despite their barrenness, conceive a child in a natural way. Jesus will be born
of a virgin’ (Card 2011:38).
63.Luke does not say why Elizabeth decided to seclude herself. However, she expresses
joy that the disgrace of her barrenness is being removed (Bock 1994:38). Green
(1997:81) says that ‘Elizabeth’s ve months of seclusion remain a mystery’. Ambrose
believes it was because of modesty (Just 2003:11). Nolland (1989:33) sees her
withdrawal from the community as showing ‘a sense of privacy about the precious
and intimate way that God has dealt with her in her old age’. However, I see
Elizabeth’s voluntary seclusion as reinforcing the prophec word to Mary about
Mary’s own pregnancy. Mary is the only one, besides Zechariah, to know of Elizabeth’s
pregnancy and Elizabeth is the only one, besides her foetal son and Zechariah, to
know of Mary’s pregnancy.
64.Elizabeth did not withdraw in order to hide her pregnancy, Geldenhuys (1979:69)
believes, but to glorify God and worship him for the miracle she was experiencing
(see Lk 1:21–25).
65.John’s concepon involves a miracle because of the ages of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
However, it is the result of human intercourse. The concepon of Jesus in Mary is a
‘divine creave acon without human intercourse’ (Brown 1988b:252).
66.Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy was a sign to Mary and serves as a sign to all
subsequent believers that Mary’s pregnancy, impossible as it seems, is not impossible
(Lk 1:36–37; Fitzmyer 1981:321). God oen blesses his people with signs and miracles,
thereby increasing their faith.
Mary’s Arrival
[Elizabeth walks back and forth smiling.] One day in my sixth
month, I was in my house singing. Zechariah was out
shopping for us. I heard my name called by a young woman’s
voice.67 Suddenly things started happening all at once.68 Bear
that in mind.
I was startled. I turned around and saw my kinswoman,
Mary.69 Mary is the daughter of Anna, my mother’s sister.70
Mary is 14.71 I knew she was engaged to be married to Joseph,
a carpenter in Nazareth.72
She called my name.73 As soon as she did, the baby in my womb
started leaping! What a commotion! I was being violently
kicked! Yet they were happy kicks! [Elizabeth chuckles.] Then
I felt something entirely new: the Lord came upon me; I was
lled with the Holy Spirit.74 Then in a very loud voice that
surprised me,75 I turned to Mary and said, ‘Blessed are you
amongst women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’76
67.Wansbrough (2007:22) sees Mary ’s visit to Elizabeth as an expression Mary’s
kindness to her ageing relave and as an expression of support to her during the
excing and worrisome me of her pregnancy. However, I believe Kershner (2007:20)
is more accurate by saying that Mary came immediately to her cousin Elizabeth’s
house ‘because she did not know where else to go’.
68.Nolland (1989:67) also sees the ‘everything happening all at once’ sequence. The
child’s movements and Elizabeth’s prophec words bump into and overlap each
other amidst much rejoicing.
69.Luke 1:39–40 addresses Mary ’s visit this way: ‘At that me Mary got ready and
hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea where she greeted Elizabeth.’ Swanson
(2007:101) thinks that Mary, who he calls Mariam, ‘ran, perhaps in ight.’ He senses
urgency in her coming to Elizabeth, an urgency that perhaps indicates she was
eeing for her life.
70.Tradion surrounds the kinship link between Elizabeth and Mary (Holy Apostles
Convent 1989:120). Elizabeth, by tradion, is the daughter of Anna’s sister, Zoia. Joakim
and Anna, by tradion parents of Mary, waited 50 years for Mary’s birth. Consequently,
if this tradion is correct, Mary follows the line of special children and long-awaited
deliverers of Israel: Isaac (Gen 21), Joseph (Gen 37), Moses (Ex 1–2), Samson (Jud 13),
Samuel (Sam 1–2) as well as Judith and Esther in the books bearing their names.
71.This drama does not menon the legends about Mary, including her delayed birth,
her holiness, her childhood and her parcipaon with other virgins in making the
veil of the Temple. However, for a fascinang account of them read The Life of the
Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (Holy Apostles Convent 1989, especially pp. 1–73).
72.The normal age for the betrothal of a girl was soon aer her twelh birthday. For
boys, the betrothal age was about 16 (Wansbrough 2007:20). The normal engagement
me was about a year.
73.The mother of the Lord greeted the mother of his prophet (Holy Apostles Convent
1989:122–123). See Luke 1:40–41.
74.Origen, wring on the signicance of Elizabeth’s prophecy, notes that ‘Elizabeth
prophesies before John. Before the birth of the Lord and Savior, Mary prophesies.
Sin began from the woman and then spread to the man. In the same way, salvaon
had its rst beginnings from women’ (Just 2003:24).
75.Bede notes that Elizabeth had ‘a great voice because she recognized the great gis
of God’. She rejoiced and ‘was on re’ because of the visit of the Son of God (in the
womb) to her (Just 2003:21, 22).
76.Elizabeth blessed Mary by reinforcing what the angel had already said. Elizabeth
blessed Mary and blessed the child she was carrying and would bear (Lk 1:42; see
Holy Apostles Convent 1989:121). Wansbrough (2007:21) sees God’s choice of Mary
as ‘the unmerited favour of an all-powerful ruler, who needs to jusfy his deeds to
no one; he simply chooses his favourites unpredictably and showers his gis upon
them as he will. Primarily it is the personal relaonship, the choice and the love, and
only secondarily the gis, the graces which follow. So God simply xed his choice
upon Mary, quite arbitrarily, not for any merits of hers.’ Marn (1982:396) oers
an interesng claricaon about Elizabeth’s words. He points to Jesus’ words to a
woman who blesses the womb that bore him and the breasts he suckled. He replies,
‘Blessed are those rather who hear the word of God and keep it’ (Lk 1:27–28). Yes,
Mary is blessed, because she is pregnant with the son of God, but also because
she hears the word of God and keeps it. Fitzmyer (1981:358) notes that Elizabeth
gives a blessing and a beatude over her young kinswoman. Firstly, Mary is blessed
(eulogeme) amongst women because of whom she carries in her womb. Secondly,
she is blessed (makaria) because of her faith. Wilson (2006:436–456) links three
women the biblical text calls blessed: Jael (Jud 5:24), Judith (Jud 13:18) and Mary
(Lk 1:42). Whilst the rst two were blessed, because they acted as deliverers and
saved Israelite lives, Mary, linking verses 42 and 48, believes she is blessed, because
God has looked favourably on the lowliness of his servant (see Wilson 2006:448).
‘Unlike Jael and Judith, Mary is called blessed not for any act of violence but for
her acceptance of God’s word: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with
me according to your word”’ (Lk 1:38),’ Wilson (2006:449). Unlike Jael and Judith,
exemplary women warriors, ‘Mary is presented as a woman disciple, a peaceful hearer
and doer of God’s word’ Wilson (ibid:449).
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We looked at each other. I was amazed at what I had said,
for I had no idea she was pregnant!77 My baby was kicking
energetically! Mary’s mouth opened. My mouth opened. We
reached for each other’s hands. I continued to shout.78
‘But why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should
come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached
my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy!’
[Elizabeth acts out this encounter, too. She exudes joy, wonder, and
laughter.] We looked at each other in astonishment. It was
really a meeting of four – our two babies and we two women.79
We hugged. We kissed. We shouted. We danced. We patted
each other’s stomachs. We hugged and kissed again.80 We
praised the Lord.81 But the prophetic word was not over.
[Elizabeth kneels suddenly.] I dropped her hands and knelt
before her. I, the older, the woman of the house, knelt before
a young woman and my guest.82 Even though all that is against
our culture, I would do it again and again.83
I looked up at her sweet face and said this prophetic word:
‘Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said
to her will be accomplished!’84
Mary nodded. Mary understood. Mary reached out her hand
and helped me up. [Elizabeth rises.] Mary said later that I greatly
encouraged her,85 for I gave a prophetic word, a spontaneous
witness to what had happened to her.86
77.Elizabeth speaks as a prophet (Dean 1983:23).
78.One view about Elizabeth’s loudness and outbursts is that they teach humanity to cry
out to Mary (Holy Apostles Convent 1989:122). However, I see her loudness and words
as the energising and power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Elizabeth acknowledges
that her words are not from herself but from the Holy Spirit. Therefore, she believes
Mary because of what the Holy Spirit did in and through her: Mary’s words and
rendion of her story simply ll in the details. Similarly, an angel encounters a doubng
Joseph in a dream. This divine encounter veries Mary’s words and gives Joseph the
clear moral leeway to connue the marriage proceedings and to marry his betrothed
(Ma 1:18–25).
79.The meeng of the four – the two mothers and their two sons – produces ‘a new
tradion of a super-hero’s birth’ (Brenner 1986:269). Landry (1995:78–79) uses an
interesng verb, congratulates, as he sums up the meeng between the kinswomen.
Elizabeth’s speech ‘congratulates Mary for believing that there would be a fullment
of what was spoken to her from the Lord’. The scene certainly carries tones of
exuberance, celebraon, joy, ancipaon, loudness and singing!
80.Themes common in an account of a super-hero’s birth, Brenner (1986:269) connues,
are the barrenness of one mother and the unmarried social status of the other.
Signicantly, there is a lack of rivalry – on issues like status, beauty, ambion and
age – between them. Instead, the women are mutually supportive and share
the commonality of faith. Brenner (ibid:270) points out that the goodwill of the
mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, sets the tone for the relaonship between their sons
by eliminang the possibility of power struggles between them in the future and
promong, instead, good will.
81.Praise acknowledges God’s goodness, God’s acons and brings aenon to God
(Bock 1994:45).
82.Elizabeth could have felt resentful and Mary could have shown pride. However,
neither emoon marks the relaonship of these two women. Instead, they celebrate
God (see Wright 2004:16).
83.Elizabeth willingly takes the second place. She acknowledges that her young
kinswoman has received from the Lord more honour than she has (Geldenhuys
1979:83). Elizabeth’s acon is part of a similar tradion in scripture: Jonathan knows
David will be king (1 Sam 20) and Barnabas lets Paul take the lead midway through
the rst missionary journey (Ac 13) (Branch 2007:313–319).
84.See Luke 1:45. Mary accepts the miraculous blending of the divine and the human
(Dean 1983:23). Mary is blessed and unique because of her faith and the child she
carries (see Bock 1994:43–44). ‘Blessed is she who has believed’ gives the essence
of a proper response to God: trust that what God says is true and live joyfully in
light of that truth (see Bock 1994:44).
85.See Holy Apostles Convent 1989:122.
86.As a pregnant older woman, Elizabeth is a sign for Mary of faith and miracles. God’s
work in Elizabeth’s life shows that God is at work in Mary ’s life too (see Marn
1982:397).
Mary’s visit for almost three months
Now I’ll tell you about Mary’s visit.87 Oh, what a joyful time
it was! She stayed with us almost three months.88 I believe
we gave to her and she gave us so much as well. First, we
believed her. We believe she carries the Son of God in her
womb. Second, we gave her space to be, to ponder, to consider
what to do, to praise God. Third, she could be herself around
us. We gave her sanctuary.89
Zechariah encouraged her greatly. He unrolled the scroll of
Isaiah. He pointed to some words, indicating they were for
Mary. Mary and I leaned down to read them. ‘Behold, the
virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will
call him Immanuel.’90 Mary is that virgin.91
[Elizabeth’s smile is tender and that of an older woman who knows
life.] I would watch her as she sat at the window, the light
gently on her face. Mary is hard to describe. She is small. You
would not notice her in a crowd.92 Yet when you look into
her eyes, there is peace.93 I’ve never seen eyes like hers. Her
eyes tell what is in her soul: peace. It makes her beautiful
beyond description.
Mary has two other strong characteristics that I observed.
First, she sings.94 Mary composed a song while here.95 Here are
some of its words: ‘My soul magnies the Lord, and my spirit
has rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He has regarded the lowly
estate of His maidservant.96 For behold, from henceforth, all
generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has
done great things for me, and holy is His name.’97
87.Acng on the hint that Gabriel gave, Mary comes to her kinswoman, Elizabeth. It
was natural to want to be around someone who also was experiencing a miracle
(Geldenhuys 1979:82).
88.Nolland (1989:77) observes that the ‘three months of Mary’s stay may allude to the
three months in 2 Samuel 6:11 of the ark’s remaining in the house of Obed-edom’.
89.Mary may well have needed sanctuary. According to Swanson (2007:104), ‘When
Mariam was in danger and overwhelmed and needed someone to take her in, feed
her, and tell her stories that would protect and stabilise her in the coming months
and years, she went to Elisheva, her aune.
90.See Isaiah 7:14 and Mahew 1:23.
91.Drane (2011:55–57) discusses the dicules modern readers have with the concept of
a virgin birth. ‘To be a virgin and pregnant is a contradicon in terms,’ he (2011:55)
begins and that concept was ‘quite unacceptable in any form to orthodox Jews’
(Drane ibid:57). Mahew seems to draw from the LXX version of Isaiah, which
translates 7:14 as virgin whilst in the Hebrew text the term may refer to a
young woman (Drane ibid:56–57). Both Luke and Mahew present the material
about Jesus’ birth in the same way that they present other material about Jesus:
straighorwardly and without elaboraon. In terms of textual structure, Mary’s
virginity parallels Elizabeth’s barrenness: neither is an obstacle to God in terms of
a promised child (see Nolland 1989:49).
92.Mary remains both fascinang and mysfying throughout the ages. Although the
biblical text shows her humility and contentment with lowly things, the Lord called
her to greatness and exalted her (Holy Apostles Convent 1989:128).
93.Mary is widely considered the rst and model disciple because of her obedience
(Wansbrough 2007:27).
94.It’s interesng to note that Elizabeth may have spoken what has come to be known
as the Magnicat of Mary (Lk 1:46–55)! Whilst Mary is the designated speaker
in all Greek manuscripts, Elizabeth is the speaker in three copies of the Old Lan
(Vetus Lana) versions. Signicantly, Irenaeus credits her as the speaker (Fitzmyer
1981:365). Mary’s song resembles that of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1–100). Mary, Hannah
and Elizabeth are all women, mothers-to-be, whom God uses in his ongoing acons
of salvaon. However, Morris (1988:83) says that ‘the textual evidence in support
of Mary is overwhelming’ (Morris’ italics). The theme of God’s faithful love runs
through both Mary’s song and Zechariah’s (Wansbrough 2007:25).
95.Her hymn emphasises God’s present movements. God is acng now and has pledged
himself to act forever on Israel’s behalf (see Kuist 1948:291 and Lk 1:46–55).
96.O’Day (1985:207) points out that Mary’s menon of low estate does not really mean
Mary’s humility but Mary’s poverty.
97.See Luke 1:46–49. Mary links what is happening to her with the history of God’s
workings with Israel when she sings, ‘the Mighty One has done great things for me’
(O’Day 1985:208).
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Mary gave my husband a gift that helped him. She told us
her story.98 She told us how Gabriel came to her.9 9 Gabriel
told her she had found favour with God.100 She would be with
child and give birth to a son and was to give him the name
Jesus. He would be great and would be called the Son of the
Most High.101
Like Zechariah, she paused to consider these words. She asked
a technical question. She asked how his words would come
to pass, because she is a virgin.102
Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her
and the power of the Most High would overshadow her.103
Mary accepted what the angel told her.104 She said, ‘Behold,
I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.’105
As Mary told us her story, emotions of fear, wonder, joy,
and perplexity crossed her face.106 When she nished, I was
thrilled. I reached for her hand. I immediately started talking
98.One tradion is that the annunciaon occurred when Joseph was absent from his
home and working his trade as a builder (Holy Apostles Convent 1989:71).
99.Signicantly, Gabriel came with an announcement of what God was going to do.
It was not a command (Geldenhuys 1979:77). See Luke 1:26–38. Noce that Mary
was not looking for God, but the angel Gabriel was sent to her.
100.Roman Catholics generally interpret the phrase, ‘full of favour,’ to mean she can
confer favour. Protestants, on the other hand, see the phrase as meaning she has
received favour (Geldenhuys 1979:75).
101.The greatness of this Son is unequalled: his greatness will excel everything. In Greek,
the phrase is ‘Son of the Highest’. It contains no arcles, a grammar technique
that indicates ‘the absolute uniqueness and highness of His divine Sonship’
(Geldenhuys 1979:76).
102.Ryken (2009:34) writes that ‘Mary did not ask this queson in unbelief. Here Luke
is drawing a contrast between Zechariah’s doubt and Mary’s faith’. In Luke 1:34,
one may see that Mary knows that she cannot have intercourse unl Joseph takes
her home and normal sexual relaons as husband and wife begin. Landry (1995:69)
translates Mary’s words as, ‘How will this be, since I do not have sexual relaons
with my husband?’ Landry (1995:69) says that ‘Luke has Mary ask the queson for
no discernible reason other than to give the angel the further opportunity to speak
of the child’s identy’. However, Smith (1975:417) sees Mary’s queson, ‘How can
this be?’ as our queson, too, especially when we think about Jesus and the promise
to mankind that Jesus’ story presents. However, Schaberg (1987) argues that Luke
presents the concepon of Jesus as an illegimate concepon. This argument is not
generally accepted. One who diers with it is Landry (1995).
103.The concept of theotokos (literally God-bearer) is not to give glory to the mother
but to verify that the life of Jesus – from the very beginning – was God’s acon.
104.Mary realises that ‘she would bear a child without the intervenon of a man,
perhaps even that conception would be immediate’ (Morris 1988:81). By her
consent, ‘Mary is here a paern for the Chrisan faith but also much more: she
responds to a call that is unique in human history’ (Nolland 1989:59). Mary realised,
through her acceptance, that she was chosen for a great task. Barclay (1956:8)
provides telling comments: ‘The piercing truth is that God does not choose a person
for ease and comfort and selsh joy but for a great task that will take all that head
and heart and hand can bring to it. God chooses that person to use that person.
When Joan of Arc knew that her me was short she prayed, “I shall only last a year;
use me as you can’’’ (Barclay’s italics). However, Steuernagel (2003:104) gets basic
when he says that if you want to understand theology, follow Mary and oer your
womb! Such an oer entails many sighs. Steuernagel (2003:104) envisions Mary
sighing as she considers the craziness of her oer and its cost to her reputaon and
later when she grapples with Joseph’s confusion (Ma 1:18–19).
105.Wright (2004:12) notes that Mary, when asked to be the mother of the Messiah,
and although not yet aware of what this involves, ‘says the words which have rung
down the years as a model of the human response to God’s unexpected vocaon:
“Here I am, the Lord’s servant-girl; let it be as you have said’’’. Mary’s response
echoes the readiness of Abigail (1 Sam 25:41), Sarah (Gen 21:1) and Hannah (1
Sam 1:11) – see Nolland 1989:57. Mary’s statement shows that she shows faith
immediately in three ways: she believes the angel’s words, willingly lets God use
her, and hurries to visit another, Elizabeth, whom God is also using amazingly (see
Bock 1994:44 and Luke 1:38). Ambrose sees it as Mary ‘did not deny the faith,
she did not refuse the duty, but she conformed her will, she promised obedience’
(Just 2003:17). Irenaeus contrasts Eve and Mary. He writes that ‘the former was
seduced to disobey God and so fell, but the laer was persuaded to obey God, so
that the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of Eve’ (Just 2003:19).
106.Daniel (2005:26–28) emphasises Mary’s perplexity. Calling Luke 1:26–38 a ‘news
ash,’ she (Daniel ibid:26) writes ‘that the most important woman in the world, the
one who is about to give birth to the son of God, the one who will have to tell her
beloved news of a pregnancy that will bring scandal to their new life, the one who
will sit at the foot of the cross heroically suering her son into eternity, the one who
now as a young girl will have to have the strength to travel long distances in miles
and even greater distances in faith, begins her adventure in a state of perplexity.
From the moment the angel greets her, she is confused’ (Daniel’s italics).
– but was interrupted by Zechariah’s sobs. Amazed, Mary
and I looked at Zechariah.
Zechariah was weeping great wrenching sobs. His keening
came from his innermost being. It was if a boil had been
lanced. Mary and I held hands as he wept. We bowed our
heads and prayed.
In our presence, Zechariah knelt and repented before God for
his unbelief.107 Because he couldn’t speak, we do not know
what he said. He bared his heart to the Lord. He wrote me
this later. Mary’s story broke him, for he saw before him
this small young woman who believed.108 And he had not
believed what Gabriel said.
[Elizabeth pauses and smiles in tenderness.] But ever since that
moment of repentance, Zechariah has been a changed man. He
is kinder to me. His sense of humour returned. He enjoys my
company. He listens to me. He sees me with eyes of love and
understanding. Oh, I hug him all the time and pat his boney
shoulder as I go about my tasks. Together we praise the Lord.
Mary left two weeks ago with a group to walk back to Nazareth.
I’ve mentioned Mary’s peace and singing ability. Now I’ll tell
you about her courage. Mary’s courage signicantly marks
her.109 She must tell Joseph she is pregnant. Mary’s courage
amazes me.110 Zechariah and I pray daily for their meeting to
go well. As a betrothed woman, she is treated the same as is a
married woman.111 Her pregnancy puts her in great danger, for
according to our law, she could be stoned, strangled, or burned
to death.112 Joseph is not the father of the child she carries.113 We
pray that Joseph, too, believes her and marries her quickly.114
107.In contrast to Zechariah, who does not inially believe, Luke presents Mary as a
model of someone who, in her own parcular life, fully and responsibly accepts
the will of God (Brown 1988b:259).
108.Ryken (2009:38) oers these telling comments: ‘How rare it is to nd someone
who is willing to trust God for the impossible and then obey him without hesitaon
or qualicaon.’
109.What I call Mary’s courage, Ryken (2009:39) sees as her faith. Ryken (ibid:39) writes
that Mary ‘trusted God for all of it – her relaonship with Joseph, her reputaon in
town, her physical suering, and the anguish of her soul. Mary believed in God and
followed him with trusng obedience.
110.All people should be amazed at God’s plan, as seen in the lives of Mary, Elizabeth,
and Zechariah (see Bock 1994:43).
111.The betrothal meant that the couple was treated as married. However, there had
not been a consummaon. Consequently, maers of inheritance, death, adultery
and divorce were handled according to the law. Only divorce could dissolve the
betrothal, as with a marriage (Holy Apostles Convent 1989:69; see also Epstein
1939 m. Ketub. 1:2, 4:2; Hagner 1993:17) and Mahew 1:18–25.
112.Swanson (2007:102, 105) points to the penales in the Talmud for pregnancies
outside of marriage. Granted, we do not know if these penales were in force in
Mary/Mariam’s me. However, they are sobering. Tractate Kethuboth 44b–45a says
that, if a girl plays the harlot in her father’s house, she is to be stoned at the entrance
of her father’s house. If witnesses tesfy she has played the harlot in his house, she
is to be stoned at the entrance of the gate of the city. If Mary or Mariam has priestly
blood, as may be the case, because Elizabeth is a daughter of Aaron, then she could
be burned. The Talmudic Tractate Sanhedrin 9:1 states that if the daughter of a
priest plays the harlot, she deserves the capital punishment of burning. Swanson
(2007:103) writes that her name, Mariam, means sea of bierness. The biblical
reference for death by stoning is Deuteronomy 22:20–24.
113.Luke and Mahew report that ‘Jesus did not have a father in the ordinary way,
and that this was because Mary had been given special grace to be the mother of
God’s incarnate self’ (Wright 2004:10).
114.For the law on adultery and other marriage issues, see Deuteronomy 22:13–30.
Bailey (2008:44–46) noces Joseph’s anger when he learns of Mary’s pregnancy
(Ma 1:18–19). Bailey (ibid:46) asserts that a beer translaon of ‘he considered’
is ‘while he fumed over this maer(Ma 1:20; Bailey’s italics). However, a signicant
aribute of this just man was that he was able ‘to reprocess his anger into grace’
(Bailey 2008:47). This drama does not agree with the view that Mary retained her
virginity aer her marriage to Joseph. However, for a ne summary of those who
hold this view, see Holy Apostles Convent 1989:74–118 – ‘The Annunciaon of the
Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary’.
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After Mary left,115 Zechariah and I began to sit outside in the
evening and watch the stars over Judea. I liked the cold stones
on my back. I liked to sit, for the last days of my pregnancy
were quite uncomfortable. Zechariah would hold my hand
and pat it kindly. I talked of our son, how great he would be.
I am sure he will be like the rst prophet, Abraham, or maybe
like the greatest prophet, Moses.116 Zechariah smiles a little
sadly at me as I go on and on, as if he knows something I do
not. [Elizabeth shakes her head and is a bit sad but then recovers
and smiles.] But still, our joy is great and even bursting at
this time. We truly have been surprised by joy! We have a
baby at our ages! Imagine that!117 We are smitten parents –
astonished and full of joy!
The circumcision
[Elizabeth the homemaker and happy mother bustles about her
small house.] Now let me tell you about what happened
this morning. My son was born eight days ago. Mine was a
difcult pregnancy. I was sick. The birth was difcult. I am
68 years old! Miracles may happen, but they take place in
human beings!
Yet I knew I would live and that my son would be a viable
child. I had the prophetic word. According to the custom of
our people, Our son was to be circumcised today, named,
and dedicated to the Lord. All our neighbours and relatives
were with us, for they knew that the Lord had shown great
mercy to me.118 Zechariah gave me this shawl as a special gift.
[She brings the shawl tenderly to her face again.]
When it came time to name the child, everyone thought the
child would be named Zechariah for his father. I said, ‘No!
He is to be called John.’119 There was a big fuss, for we have
no relatives of that name.120
[Elizabeth, predictably by now, gets louder and louder and happier
and happier as she remembers what happened this morning.] A
writing tablet was brought for Zechariah. He wrote, ‘His
name is John.’121 Immediately his tongue was loosed and
115.Mary returned home (Lk 1:56). However, Luke gives no indicaon of whether that
meant her parents’ home or the home of Joseph (see Fitzmyer 1981:369).
116.Abraham was the rst prophet in scripture (Gen 20:7). Moses, who delivered
the Hebrew slaves from Egypt and led them for 40 years in the wilderness, is
acknowledged as Israel’s greatest prophet. Herod beheaded John (Ma 14:1–12,
Mk 6:14–29 and Lk 7:24–35).
117.One of the most beauful aspects of the infancy narraves is that God deals on
micro and macro levels. Whilst preparing to deal with sin, as he promised, through
the birth of his son, Jesus, God honours an honourable, obedient and faithful couple
by granng them their hearts’ desire: a son named John. Wright (2004:8) correctly
states that God ‘takes care of smaller human concerns as well’.
118.Barclay (1956:11) recounts that, in Palesne at the me, musicians and friends
gathered at a house for a birth. If the child was a boy, great celebraon followed. If
it was a girl, the musicians went away silently and in sorrow. ‘So in Elizabeth’s house,
there was double joy,’ Barclay (1956:11) says, because their neighbour had a child at
last and that child was a son! See Luke 1:57–66.
119.Her ‘No!’ is emphac (Morris 1988:86).
120.With the birth of John ‘God vindicates Elizabeth and, coincidentally, provides a
prophet of the coming of the Lord,’ Green (1997:107) writes.
121.The name John is a shortened version of Jehohanan and means God is gracious
(Barclay 1956:12).
he could speak!122 He started shouting!123 He kissed me. He
kissed John. He kissed the rabbi. He kissed all our relatives
– even the ones he never liked! I held up the baby. Soon John
was being passed around and around. He was almost being
tossed back and forth! We shouted and praised God, but
Zechariah shouted the loudest. He could speak again! Oh,
the amazing joy!124
Then Zechariah started singing! Oh, the dear old coot! He
was lled with the Holy Spirit, I could tell because I am, too,
and he started prophesying. He praised the Lord, the God
of Israel for redeeming his people and raising up a horn of
salvation for us.125 He praised God for rescuing us from the
hand of our enemies126 and enabling us to serve him with
righteousness and holiness all our days.127
Then he tenderly took young John from my arms and cradled
him.128 He spoke to the baby in this way:
‘And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most
High.129 You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way
for him. You will give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins.130 ‘The tender mercy of
our God has come upon us. The Dayspring from on high has
visited us.131 God will give light to those who sit in darkness
and the shadow of death.132 God will guide our feet into the
way of peace.’133
122.Perhaps he could now also hear, because the text hints that Zechariah was also deaf
(Lk 1:20, 62; Branch 2009:35). The miracle of Zechariah’s sudden speech aests to
the specialness of the child. He, like Elizabeth, lled with the Spirit, becomes ‘the
mouthpiece of God’ (Fitzmyer 1981:382).
123.Maximus of Turin sees the ming of the baby’s being named John and Zechariah’s
sudden ability to speak again as miraculous and symbolic, because the child ‘gave his
father back his voice, he restored the faculty of speech to the priest … John unloosed
the mouth that the angel had bound. What Gabriel had closed the lile child unlocked
… When John is born the father suddenly becomes a prophet or priest, speech aains
its use, love receives an ospring, the oce recognizes the priest’ (Just 2003:29).
124.The events leading up to John’s circumcision and what took place at the circumcision
show that God is moving again amongst his people and in Israel’s history (see
Fitzmyer 1981:309).
125.The horn of salvaon (Lk 1:69) expresses joy and might, strength as well as power.
All are aributes of the God of Israel. Here, designang an agent of God’s salvic
power in David’s line, it becomes ‘in a loose sense a messianic title’ (Fitzmyer
1981:383; See Lk 1:67–79).
126.Consider this logic: because God saved Zechariah from his unbelief, he surely can
save Israel from her enemies (see Branch 2009:37).
127.Zechariah’s prophec song breaks neatly into two parts. Verses 68–75 oer praise
to the God of Israel. Verses 76–79 give a broad job descripon for his son, John
(Branch 2009:33).
128.Wright (2004:18) believes that the song shows Zechariah as one ‘who has pondered
the agony and the hope for many years, and who now nds the two bubbling out of
him as he looks in awe and delight at his baby son’. Morris (1988:89) observes that
‘we might have expected that Zechariah’s song would be all about his lile boy. He
surprised us by beginning with the Messiah whom God was about to send.’
129.Zechariah and Elizabeth both realise that their son’s role was not the main one in
the drama. Granted, he was to be honoured as ‘the prophet of the Most High,’ but
he was not the ‘Son of the Most High’ (Lk 1:76, 32; Dean 1983:25). John will be like
the servant in Isaiah 49:5 – and a servant with a daunng task: that of restoring
Israel to God (Nolland 1989:35–36).
130.See Luke 1:76–77. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son John will proclaim God’s salvaon
and Mary’s baby will be the salvaon (Bock 1994:5). Zechariah’s prophec words
emphasise restoraon. Barclay (1956:13–14) rightly emphasises the key aspect of
forgiveness. It does entail looking again at the penalty. More importantly, it aims
to restore a relaonship (Branch’s italics). Signicantly, this restoraon begins at
the insgaon of the one wronged: God.
131.Kuist (1948:298) expresses it as: ‘Because of God’s heart of mercy, ‘the day-spring
from on high’ was at hand.’
132.Ryken (2009:64) sees the condion of Israel before the birth of Christ as dark days
and that darkness ‘is the situaon we are all in unl we are saved’.
133.Card (2011:44) writes that Zechariah sings ‘a song about a new world where the
condion in which one will serve God is love and faithfulness and joy’. In the old world
order, the predominant emoon in the service of God was fear (Card 2011:44).
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Well, after that, we hugged and kissed some more. Our guests
and neighbours were lled with awe.134 John got cranky, so I
took him and fed him and put him down to sleep. Oh, how
I pray that joy will mark my son’s life as it has done so far.135
[Elizabeth rests her cheek on her shawl.]
Conclusion
[Elizabeth pauses and paces.] Well, what would I like you to
remember and know? What I have spoken to you is true.136
Mary, of course, was the rst to know that Jesus, the son she
carries, is the Son of God. But I, Elizabeth, I and the baby
son within me were the second to recognise that the Son of
God is in the womb of Mary.137 There will be others, many
others who will know Jesus as the Son of God.138 I hope you
are one of them.139 But while I knelt before Mary delivering
the prophetic word to her, I listened as well. The pronouns
were she and her. ‘Blessed is she who has believed that what
the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.’
At times the prophetic word is deliberately vague and
ambiguous; the word man can include woman as well.140 At
times the prophetic word is like ripples in a pond and can
apply again and again. The pronouns she and her obviously
applied to Mary. I thought later that they could apply to me
as well.141 I have believed the Lord; I, too, have received his
favour.142 What he has said to me has been accomplished.
And so I tell you as well, take this word, be you woman or
man. It is God’s living word.
[Elizabeth puts out her right hand toward women in the audience.]
‘Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said
to her will be accomplished.’
134.Nolland (1989:81) prefers the word fear to awe because ‘a totally unlikely pregnancy,
a strange insistence on a completely unexpected name, and the subsequent
instantaneous recovery of Zechariah combine to produce that involuntary response
of fear of the divine acvity which Luke is so fond of nong’ (cf. 5:26, 7:16, 8:37, etc.).
135.See Bock 1994:43.
136.In a very real sense, this monologue incorporates worship, because it explains the
biblical text. Long (2001:43) denes worship as a service allows ‘the drama already
present in worship to be brought to the surface and to be more deeply experienced’
(Long’s italics).
137.See Holy Apostles Convent 1989:123. Doriani, Ryken and Phillips (2008:69) are
incorrect when they write that John was the rst to recognise Jesus as the Christ.
Furthermore, they ignore the contribuons of Elizabeth enrely.
138.Darden (2006:13) seems to note the joy of those throughout the ages who wish
to communicate the good news to others when he writes, ‘Here’s the wonderful
thing – we are part of that story! We play an important role in God’s Great Plan.
This is our story! The Bible is our roadmap and our cast list. Knowing how these
stories are used, how they’re important, and what to watch for is important so we
will know our parts in this great cosmic comedy or drama.
139.I designed this monologue to be fun, but academic in the sense of solid research.
It is not devoonal, although both men and women have wept during the many
mes I have presented it. I designed it to encourage a deeper awareness of formave
events in the lives of Elizabeth, Zechariah and Mary in the ongoing, wonderful
work of God in history (cf. Ratcli 1992:129–130). The monologue and Luke 1
emphasise the prominence of the upcoming Davidic king and acknowledge the
importance of ‘his prophec precursor, John’ (Nolland 1989:24).
140.See Psalm 1, for example.
141.Whilst characteriscs like ‘blameless’ and ‘upright’ describe Zechariah and Elizabeth,
the designaon of virgin describes Mary. Mary becomes the rst model disciple
in the new order. Luke 1 shows her as calm, obedient, full of worship, courageous,
willing to take God at his word, willing to experience the unknown and willing to
believe past her natural understanding. She is even a good songwriter! Likewise,
Elizabeth is a model of how to react. Believing and joyful, she is an ‘amazed saint’
(Bock 1994:43).
142.See Luke 1:25, 43.
[Elizabeth puts out her left hand toward men in the audience.]
‘Blessed is he who has believed that what the Lord has said
to he will be accomplished.’143
And blessed, blessed, blessed be the Holy One of Israel!
[Her hands are raised in joy and praise.]
[Her face melts in happiness. She cocks her head stage left.] Ah,
do you hear what I hear? I hear John. He’s awake and fussy.
I must go nurse the little prophet. Please excuse me. Please
come again.144 [Elizabeth bobs a curtsy, adjusts her shawl, and
exits stage left.]
Acknowledgements
Compeng interests
The author declares that she has no nancial or personal
relationship[s] that may have inappropriately inuenced her
when she wrote this article.
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143.Elizabeth’s monologue has sought to create an experience in which the audience
has listened to how God moved in a mighty way in the lives of ordinary people. I
hope that the audience can reect upon her words in fruiul and creave ways
(see McNabb & Mabry 1990:51).
144.According to tradion and the wrings of the Church Fathers Epiphanius, Basil
and Cyril of Alexandria, Zechariah died a martyr in the Temple between the porch
and the altar. Herod ordered his death, because he refused to disclose the locaon
of his son (Thurston & Awater 1956:IV-267). We know nothing about Elizabeth’s
death. Their saint’s day is November 5 (Thurston & Awater 1956:IV-267).
Original Research
doi:10.4102/ids.v47i1.77
hp://www.indieskriig.org.za
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