But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. . . . “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:7, 25
I cannot imagine how Elizabeth must have felt. In a culture that valued children much more than ours does today, she was sterile, unable to have children. Some might say unproductive, unfruitful. She felt disgraced among her people. Did the other women with lots of kids shoot her haughty glances? Instead of empathizing, did they look down on her, even whisper insults? No doubt, here was an opportunity for Elizabeth’s “fruitful” neighbors to have a field day.
How ugly is our sin! It has flowed from Adam and Eve to every one of us. It has brought a dreadful curse on all of us. Infertility is just one of so many painful reminders all around us. Don’t we all struggle with our own unique and painful reminders?
But it gets even uglier. Instead of empathizing with others who struggle with something especially painful like infertility, the sinner in us is tempted to rub it in, to treat them as if their sin is worse than ours, as if their disgrace is somehow greater than ours!
Let’s be honest. You and I are all a disgrace before God. The ugly stain of our sin is real, and we can do nothing to remove it. You and I are as helpless to remove our disgrace as Elizabeth was. God knows this, and he wants us to know it. Why else would he choose so many women who struggled with infertility to carry out his plan to save sinners? We find Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and more in the Old Testament. And now, at the dawn of the New Testament, the gospel writer Luke begins his historical record of God’s saving plan with two more miracle babies: not only our Savior Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, but also his forerunner John (the Baptist), Elizabeth’s precious son in her old age.
In these days and in this way, the Lord has shown us his favor and taken away our disgrace. He has made it perfectly clear that he has done it all for us.
Dear Father, you have truly saved us by grace alone. Help us, as sinners washed clean with Jesus’ blood and now clothed in his righteousness, to show favor and empathy to all of our fellow human beings. Amen.
Rev. Ross Stelljes serves Martin Luther College as a professor of theology.