Judges 13, 2-7, 24-25; Psalm 71; Luke 1, 5-25
In the Seasons of Advent and Christmas, we celebrate possibilities. The readings today are stories of the impossible becoming possible. Two barren women, the wife of Manoah (we do not know her name) and Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, conceived a son. Manoah and his wife bore Samson; Zechariah and Elizabeth bore John the Baptist. Both pregnancies were announced by an angel of the Lord. Both Samson and John the Baptist were destined to undergo a unique mission.
I have several short points. First, barrenness was a social disgrace. It was considered to be God’s punishment. Though Zechariah and Elizabeth both come from a priestly tribe, blameless in the observance of the law of Moses, we could imagine that both of them had to live with this misfortune for a very long time. But God ordained that they would be gifted with child even in their old age like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Manoah and his wife and Elkanah and Hannah in the Old Testament.
We do have experiences of barrenness, when some aspect of our lives are unmoving and lifeless, or when we are unable to bring life to our lives. Some are barren physically. They have been praying for children, but they still remain childless. Many of them feel that they have not been blessed or God has not heard their prayers. It is also possible that they feel barren because they are jobless and thus, they feel useless. Some are barren emotionally. They are lonely and empty. They are depressed and helpless. They feel that something is lacking in their lives, and they have not felt fulfilled. Some are barren spiritually. They feel detached and abandoned by God because they had experienced death, failure and misfortune. They feel alienated and far from God, not just because of their sins but also because they have spent a long time away from church. They even feel that they are unworthy to be in a religious activity or even to enter a place of worship.
Second, the need to be open to a divine surprise. The readings tell us that Manoah and Zechariah experienced the angels who announced the Good News in worship. These scenes were set in the temple in Jerusalem where the hopes of the people of God were always brought and centered. Manoah, Zechariah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elkanah and their respective wives centered their hopes in God and so God granted them their prayers.
In our experiences of barrenness, we center our hope in God. When we have done everything we could, underwent every medical and psychological test and therapy, we turn our needs to God who can help fill our lack and emptiness. The people of the Old Testament kept their hearts open to a divine surprise.
There are also human experiences of announcement. These are the times when the doctor confirms pregnancy to an excited couple; the acceptance of work or a licensure exam; an affirming remark or an inspiring message that uplifts our souls and heals our broken hearts; or the experience of God in forgiveness, reconciliation and worship. All of these marks the beginning of a new life.
Third, the need to be full of hope and excitement. When the husbands of the barren women of the Old and Testament returned home, there was an atmosphere of expectancy. It is said that when Zechariah returned home after his stint at the temple, Elizabeth went into seclusion thanking God for taking away her disgrace. During these times, we wait in excitement and hope. This is the time between the announcement of a new job and the first day of work; this is the time when the couple awaits childbirth. This is the time when we find ourselves productive again, inspired to do something after a long time in hibernation. We celebrate these moments of waiting.
Finally, the divine surprise. Little can be said here. We just experience the overwhelming joy. We allow God to surprise us. We make a space for people to do something good for us. Many of us are control-freaks. We plan everything and set every single detail in motion. There should be no space for the unexpected. That is why many have grown rigid, serious and stern --- they are not used to affirmation and surprises. Some of them feel comfortable doing something for others, but not at ease when they are in the receiving end.
Christmas is a time to be light and relaxed. We surprise others as well as we also open ourselves to be surprised by them. Why? Because God is a God of surprises. Only God have thought of having a virgin to be mother, a child who is God, a King in a manger. Even before that, the list included barren women having children in old age. For God, as the Gospel of Luke says, nothing is impossible.