Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah and mother of John the Baptist, is not usually included in our traditional nativity scenes. As far as I know, she is never included in our traditional nativity scenes. I have never encountered a nativity scene that had Elizabeth standing next to the angels, animals, shepherds, and wise men as they gathered around the manger of the newborn Jesus.
But there ought to be a nativity scene like that. Elizabeth ought to be included in the nativity scene because she definitely had a place in the nativity events. She did something that was “nativity”. In doing so, she contributed to the Christmas story and the Kingdom which came through that Christmas story. We see her do this in Luke’s account of that story.
Christmas in Luke
Of all the Gospels, Luke gives us the best account of the Christmas story. Mark has no Christmas story at all. John has a prologue that has some Christmas language but not many Christmas images or any Christmas events. Matthew gives us just a genealogy, an incident with Joseph and the name Emmanuel, and the visit of the wise men.
Luke gives us much more. It is Luke which gives us the trip to Bethlehem, the stable, the manger, the shepherds, and the heavenly host. It gives us all of this in the first 20 verses of its second chapter. These are the verses my family reads every Christmas morning. These are the verses that give rise to most of our modern nativity scenes. These are the verses Linus quotes in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
But there is even more to Luke’s Christmas story than just the “Christmas story proper” of these verses. There are several incidents which occur before the story proper and a few which occur after. These are recorded in Luke 1 and the rest of Luke 2. There we see an angel appearing to the priest Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist. We see an angel appearing to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus. We see Simeon and Anna prophesying over the baby Jesus in the Temple. And, on top of all of that, we see the naming of John the Baptist.
While the naming of John the Baptist may not be considered a part of the Christmas story in our modern times, it is clear Luke thought it was. Luke clearly considered this event to be a precursor to the Christmas story, something in the foreword, perhaps, but still very much part of the narrative.
And it is in this event that Elizabeth does something that is totally Christmas and completely Kingdom.
Family and Kingdom Collide
In Luke 1:57-61, we read this:
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
On the surface, this may look like a rather small family squabble, one like most of us have experienced at Christmastime. But when we look for the larger themes or “working pieces” that are operating behind the scenes here, we see something different and far more significant. We see that these “neighbors and relatives” were inadvertently but still actually trying to frustrate Christmas and Kingdom.
Kingdom and Elizabeth
Kingdom is one of the great themes or working pieces of the Gospel, the Bible, and everything that God has been striving for since the creation of the world. While it can be defined in many ways, one good definition is “the will of God”. Kingdom is what God wants to happen, and “Kingdom coming” is when it does happen. Jesus gives us this definition of Kingdom in Matthew 6:10:
In this situation, Kingdom had already been revealed to Elizabeth. The angel told Zechariah her baby was to be named John (Luke 1:13), Zechariah must have told Elizabeth (even though he couldn’t speak at the time), and so Elizabeth knew. She knew what God wanted. She knew what God’s will was.
And now these neighbors and relatives were trying to do something different. They had somehow hijacked the situation and were trying to name the baby something else.
Elizabeth Stands Alone
That is when Elizabeth did something wonderful, something Kingdom, something Christmas. She stood up for what God wanted. She stood up even though no one stood by her. In the midst of the crowd that was following tradition and misguided-but-still-good-intentions, she stood up alone and said the child would be named what God said he would be named. She insisted the child be named John.
In doing so, Elizabeth not only demonstrates what a wonderful woman of God and of faith she is. She also demonstrates to us what we must do in similar situations. Like Elizabeth, we will find ourselves in situations where people are opposing the Kingdom. Maybe they are doing so unintentionally, like these people crowding around Elizabeth. Maybe they are doing so intentionally, which is far worse. But they will do it and we will find ourselves in the midst of them doing it.
What God is showing us through Elizabeth here is how to handle such a situation. God is showing us here how to respond when His Kingdom is opposed. And that how is to stand. It is to stand alone. It is to know what His will is and to stand for it.
As Christmas As Christmas Gets
This is what Elizabeth did and why Elizabeth should be in the nativity scene. This is how Elizabeth contributed in a wonderful way to Christmas and the Kingdom and the Gospel and everything God has been doing since the beginning of time.
Itis how we can do such things as well. We can stand alone against tradition and misunderstanding and ignorance and wickedness and anything else that contradicts Kingdom, even if doing so means standing alone. We can stand for the will of God.
That may not sound like Christmas, but it is. What, after all, is the birth of God’s Son other than God’s Kingdom coming? So that is Christmas. That is as Christmas as Christmas gets. That is a Christmas we can do.