Barrenness and Virginity
Luke 1:8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
Augustine brings and interesting perspective to this passage:
The church observes the birth of John as in some way sacred…. When we celebrate John’s, we also celebrate Christ’s….
John is born of an old woman who is barren. Christ is born of a young woman who is a virgin. Barrenness gives birth to John, virginity to Christ. The normal and proper age of parents was lacking with the birth of John. No marital embrace occurred for the birth of Christ. The former is announced in the declaration of the angel. With the angel’s annunciation the latter is conceived. That John will be born is not believed, and his father is silenced. That Christ will be born is believed, and he is conceived by faith. First of all faith makes its entry into the heart of the virgin, and there follows fruitfulness in the mother’s womb. (Augustine, SERMON 293).
For both Elizabeth and Mary the conception was truly a miracle and especially significant as a symbol to women. All women had suffered from the time of Eve’s sin and very specifically as prophesied, in the area of childbirth. Pain was associated with childbirth, not just because of the delivery process, but even in the desire to have children. Children were the hope of the future, the hope of your old age. To not have children might mean that a woman would be cast aside. A husband could divorce his wife for not producing children. Just imagine that the woman at the well may have had as many husbands as she did because she was infertile, having been thrown away time and again.
This message of good news is not just to Elizabeth, but it is God reaching out to his daughters and his sons in an incredibly loving and holy touch of restoration, for her barrenness was symbolic of the barrenness of God’s people. They had not been producing spiritual children in the way which God had intended. Now, there would be a new era and her child was to be the voice of one calling in the wilderness — make way for the Lord! Israel was about to become fruitful again as the barren woman gave birth to the prophetic voice pointing in the direction of the Savior.
There is hope when we feel barren. Spiritual barrenness has a cure and it comes from the loving touch of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God’s children can again bear fruit when the miraculous and majestic power of the Holy Spirit does its work.
When we find ourselves in that dry space and wondering whether there is any hope, the one who dwells in the presence of God comes and ministers to us at our point of need. Elizabeth responded in obedience to the call and God’s promise was fulfilled. We are called to obedience in all things to the will of the Father and he will provide the fruit. Barrenness and virginity were no obstacle to the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing a people to a place where they were again healthy, fruitful and multiplying.
Lord, please help me to live in obedience to your call on a daily basis. Amen.
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