The Gospel of Luke and today’s first reading from the Book of Judges both continue the theme of divine intervention through angelic messengers. The message they convey is one of the new life to come. The wife of Manoah, she is not named, and Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, both receive the message of impending birth. The miraculous claim here is that both women are beyond bearing age.
For women of ancient Israel, this was a tremendous cause for shame; for many women, their worth was defined by their ability to bear children. This was in evidence in the words of Elizabeth. When she conceived she said, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.” (Lk 1:25). Her shame and anguish would now be over, her long period of barrenness was coming to an end.
Many women today feel this same anguish, in that they desire to have a child and are not able to. There may be many reasons why, but there may also be a plan that God has in place that is not readily apparent at the time. One may be God’s timing, for Mary it was too soon! For Manoah’s wife and Elizabeth, it was about time! But in each case, God had his plan and timing in mind. For some women, there may be another way of serving other than being a birth mother.
Adoption or foster parenting of children who are in desperate need of safe, stable homes are options. Some more indirect ways could be assisting in caring for nieces and nephews, cousins, teaching catechesis, or working with youth groups. Other ways to serve could be through more time consuming active ministries, vocations, or jobs. I cannot imagine wanting to give birth to my own child and not be able to do so, nor can I imagine the inner anguish that may cause. I do believe God has a plan for each of us and when we align ourselves with his will we will truly be happy and fulfilled.
Though I am not the birth father of any of my own children, I have been blessed with the gift of being a step-father to JoAnn’s three children, Mia, Jack, and Christy. This was not necessarily the plan I thought about. In fact, about a year before we met, I was in a consignment shop and saw a jean jacket for an infant. I bought it thinking it would look good on my future daughter or son. When JoAnn and I were married the kids were no longer infants, so, I guessed the jacket would look good on a future granddaughter or grandson, God’s timing!
I am truly thankful to have been married to JoAnn and journeyed alongside Mia, Jack, and Christy, and although we are now facing our greatest challenge thus far, learning to live without JoAnn, I would marry her all over again. It is too soon to see how God will bring about a greater good from her too early departure from this life, but I trust that not only he but JoAnn will reveal to us the steps we are to take as we need to know them.
Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation. There are periods of waiting in all of our lives and we can certainly be impatient with God and ourselves. We have certain plans and intentions that we want to accomplish but often are not capable of seeing far enough down the road to notice if those plans are apparent or actual goods. The light at the end of a tunnel could actually be a train!
When we remain faithful like Manoah’s wife, Elizabeth, and Mary, and resist the temptation to go off on our own, while seeking to understand his will or ignoring it altogether, we will find fulfillment and joy. Each of us is called to be a Christ-bearer to a worn and weary world desperately in need of new life! We will also enjoy the time of waiting more when we are trusting that God is preparing us for what we seek or something even greater than we can ever imagine!