Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.
—Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World,” 1719
Let Every Heart
Prepare Him Room
Long before silver bells jingled, Christmas lights twinkled, and horse-drawn sleighs went dashing through the snow, God reached down from heaven with the best gift of all.
Love, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Hope, nestled in a manger.
Three women played vital roles in the Messiah’s birth: Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna. Even if you’ve met them before, I think you’ll enjoy getting to know them better. And I’ll love sharing the journey with you!
Their lives were markedly different. Elizabeth was married, settled, mature. Her kinswoman Mary was young, still living at home, and engaged to a carpenter. Anna was an elderly widow whose every waking hour was wholly dedicated to God. Before we reach the final page, we’ll understand why God chose them. And why—this part boggles my mind—God has chosen us too.
We’ll also spend time with the men in their lives, including an old priest called Zechariah, a new husband named Joseph, and a brother of the faith known as Simeon.
Still, it’s the women who carry the story, teaching us by example to wait upon the Lord, to trust him with everything that matters to us, to pray until our prayers are answered. We’ll also hear from more than two dozen women who shared their comments through my online Bible study. Their honesty and humility bring these ancient stories right into the present, showing us what it means to surrender our lives to the One who loves us most.
And he truly does love you. Always has, always will. If only one message from this book finds a home in your heart, let it be that God’s love for you is wider, longer, higher, and deeper than you can ever imagine!
Christmas is so much more than a holiday. So much more than buying and wrapping and cooking and eating and trimming with tinsel and mailing out cards. It’s a season for reflection, for preparation, for renewal. The perfect time to put aside our shopping lists and reach for our Bibles, where the story of the Christ child awaits us.
Curl up in a comfy spot, and let’s dive in.
“This year I want to look up and be refreshed anew by the true meaning of it all.” —Miriam
And so we begin with Elizabeth, our first woman of Christmas.
Anticipation builds as we turn to the book of Luke. We know what’s coming. Or do we? The forgotten details, the overlooked truths may catch us by surprise and teach us something new about God and his love for us. The birth of his Son is a story that never grows old, never loses its power to alter our thinking and realign our priorities.
Mary is, of course, the most famous of our trio, yet her older kinswoman Elizabeth moved into the limelight first, along with the man she married.
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah,… Luke 1:5
Just an ordinary priest. The streets of Jerusalem were full of them. Depending on the translation, his name is spelled “Zacharias,” “Zachariah,” even “Zachary.” Same guy. Zechariah was not only a good man; he was also God’s man, descended from a long line of holy servants.
…who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah;… Luke 1:5
Abijah was just one of twenty-four divisions, so there were lots of priests. Since the time of Aaron, their duties included handling various offerings, giving thanks, and singing praises at the gates of God’s dwelling place. A worthy calling, though with so many priests, few were singled out for ministry within the temple’s Holy Place.
Now that we have Zechariah sorted out, here’s the woman we’ve been eager to meet.
…his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Luke 1:5
A popular name, much loved through the centuries. My mother was an Elizabeth, I’m one too, and so is my daughter-in- law, though each generation picked a different nickname: Betty, Liz, and Beth. The meaning remains the same: “God’s promise” or “oath of God.”
Like her husband, Elizabeth was in Aaron’s lineage, which made her a fine catch since marrying a woman of priestly ancestry was a special blessing. Among her many tasks Elizabeth kept her husband’s priestly garments in good repair and welcomed visitors into their home to discuss temple matters.
We know this couple. We’ve seen them at church, exchanged smiles in the parking lot. Happily married people, busily serving the Lord, always doing good.
Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. Luke 1:6
They lived “honorably before God” (msg ) and humbly as well, knowing the Lord alone was their source of righteousness. It may sound as if Elizabeth and her husband were obedient and so earned God’s approval, but, in truth, it was the other way around. God’s power and strength at work in their lives made it possible for them to do the right thing in the first place.
The same is true for us, of course. Though it’s tempting to praise people for their goodness, it’s better to praise the One who made them. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
After such cheery news about Elizabeth and her hubby in the opening verses, it’s time for the other shoe to drop. When God’s blessings are piled on our heads, it’s easy to be faithful. The real test comes when disappointment calls and sorrow pulls up a chair.
But they were childless… Luke 1:7
Oh no. Not these two godly souls?
Afraid so. Even with all their goodness and righteousness, sadness had crept into their home. In their world children were seen as God’s reward for faithful service. We can guess the desperate questions that threaded through their minds as each year went by without a child in their arms. Are we not faithful enough, Lord? Have we dishonored you in some way?
Whenever they heard the psalmist’s words “The fruit of the womb is a divine reward,” Zechariah and Elizabeth must have steeled themselves, hiding their pain, even as they avoided sidelong glances from their neighbors.
…because Elizabeth was not able to conceive,… Luke 1:7