Christmas decorating is nearly done. Shopping is well under way. In just a few weeks, we'll have the opportunity to spend the holiday season with our extended family - one of the things I truly treasure this time of year. I can already picture my nieces and nephews opening their gifts and enjoying a special camaraderie that only cousins can share. My mind drifts back to some cousins from long ago.
Zacharias and Elisabeth didn't have any children. They had prayed diligently for the blessing of a baby, but with each passing year their hopes waned. But that all changed with the appearance of an angel with unbelievable news.
Zacharias was performing his duty as a priest in the Temple one day, when an angel of the Lord appeared, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. Imagine! What could this mean? Zacharias was afraid. The angel began to speak, "Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John," (Luke 1:13; KJV). I can picture Zacharias' surprise. Maybe he closed his eyes and re-opened them, wondering if his mind was playing tricks on him. But the angel was still there.
How could it be possible? Zacharias and his wife were old - surely they were well beyond child-bearing age. There was no way...He couldn't keep the question to himself any longer, "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well sricken in years," (Luke 1:18). The angel, Gabriel's, response was a bit more than Zacharias had bargained for, "And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season," (Luke 1:20).
Imagine Elisabeth's surprise when her husband came home, unable to speak, yet sharing news that an angel had appeared to him, assuring him that they were going to have a baby! She was probably speechless herself, with words like, "No way!" echoing through her mind. But with God, all things were possible, and sure enough, Elisabeth conceived.
A few months later, and miles away in Nazareth, Elisabeth's cousin Mary received some incredible news as well. The same angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary informing her that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. He went on to share with her, "And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren," (Luke 1:36).
The Messiah that had been prophesied all these years would be Mary's son? Unbelievable! And her cousin's son, John, would prepare the way for him. Mary chose to believe the angel's news and made a visit to Elisabeth.
As soon as Mary greeted her cousin, she was in for a surprise, "And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy," (Luke 1:41-44).
What followed, was a sweet time of praising the Lord for His incredible goodness. Two cousins, both expecting babies by miraculous means. I believe they spent an unforgettable three months together before Mary returned to Nazareth.
As you look forward to this Christmas season, make it a point to spend time with family and friends. And most importantly, take the opportunity to celebrate the Savior's birth!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of family. And for a time that is set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Help me share You with others this Christmas season. In Jesus' name, Amen.