URC :: Spirituality

broadening and deepening prayer

Ann Barton: Thoughts on Elisabeth

Praying with those who wait Ann Barton: Thoughts on Elisabeth

Hello – my name is Ann, I live near Cambridge. I am the Church Secretary and one of three Lay Leaders at Whittlesford URC (where the synod office is) and I am also a member of the core group of the URC spirituality committee.

In this session, I want to offer some thoughts from Elizabeth’s perspective, and later, in groups – for us to try to answer two questions; What are we waiting for? and what does Advent mean to us now?

Let us remind ourselves of the biblical text:

Luke 1: 34 – 57 describes the scene as the events unfold:–

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

During those days Mary set out and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son.”



Let us just spend a moment or two, thinking about both Elizabeth and her cousin Mary – and of course, Zechariah, because he was waiting, too!


I’m now going to morph into Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin.


Meditation of Elizabeth

It seems like I was always waiting– always wondering when it would be my turn to bear my husband a child. My sisters and my friends were cleverer than me, prettier than me, more confident than me. I was always waiting to be chosen. My marriage has not been without love, but there hasn’t been much joy, if I’m honest. I feel as if my life has never really got started, and there is so much I regret. I have spent far too long thinking ‘’if only’’.

I don’t blame Zechariah. He is a good man, a holy man, a godly man, a priest descended from Aaron. I know he was embarrassed by it, though – and he was embarrassed by me. You know how men are; they have difficulty in talking about their shame. They bury themselves in their work. They cannot look you in the eye and least of all – discuss it! He did what other men do – he looked the other way! Everyone assumed that it was my fault that we had no children …..even me. And so we just went our separate ways. Together but not united.

And the emptiness between us just grew and grew.

When my friends became pregnant, I was pleased for them at first. Soon, it would be my turn, I told myself. But the years came and went and even though their children had children – I did not. I felt cursed and became covetous and then angry. There was life in me but someone had pressed the ‘pause’ button. There were possibilities and always hope in me, but eventually as I got older, even that disappeared and I had to face the fact that I would never bare a child. When I thought about the future – my future, it felt very bleak.

I retreated into myself. I was still a good wife in the sense that I did all that was expected of me, but it was all pretence. I was filled with disappointment and envy – and it was eating me up. Mine was the shadow of a life. I practised deceit and pretended to smile with contentment but even that didn’t prevent people’s pity. The whispering was so hard to bear. I knew they were wondering whose sin and whose failing had caused this barrenness.

Each day; each week; each year after each long year, faded into the next – until the day it didn’t! And even then, me an old woman bearing a child, there is a kind of mockery in it. This is not how it was meant to be. Don’t get me wrong, I am pleased, so pleased, so overjoyed that there is a child coming – but why now? And who is this child?

It happened on the day that Zechariah was serving in the sanctuary. His section was on duty, and as is the custom, someone was chosen to make the offering of incense, and the lot fell to him. Zechariah entered the sanctuary and was making the offering when – and I know this sounds crazy – an angel appeared to him. He was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him – but you know the rest.

We were both filled with doubt as well as fear. After all, that’s what age and disappointment does to you – it makes you cynical, and so he asked the angel how he would know that all that he was told, would actually happen. And the angel named Gabriel said to him that because he did not believe, he would be struck dumb until the day happened.

Well, as soon as Zechariah came home, he couldn’t tell me what happened but within days I felt the change within me. My body was different – full of energy – full of life. I hid myself away and never went out of the house. Then I was sure, and when there was no mistaking it, I was as proud as any mother could be. I told it plain; I showed the world and shouted out that this was what the Lord had done for me – and it took the disgrace away that I have endured among my own people.

[Reuben/Dan – can you share the image of Elizabeth & Mary on the screen, please]

And now, here she comes; Mary, my cousin. She also carries a child and she also has a strange story to tell. I watch her coming and know that somehow, I also am being used for the purpose of God, and that my child, like Elijah, directs the heart to God. Amen.


Spend just a few moments looking at the joyful image and thinking about what you have heard. [2mns pause.]

Group session

Before we go into groups, I want to give you a few statements that I found on the internet which may promote discussion when trying to answer the two questions:

  1. What are we waiting for?
  2. What does Advent mean to us now?





For us, the Advent season is a four-week period before Christmas that celebrates the anticipation and coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The origin of “advent” is from the Latin word adventus which simply translates “coming” or “arrival”.

Google states that the Advent Season is all about reflecting on how we can prepare our hearts and homes for Christ’s birth in the world as it is today.

It is a time for faith communities and families to remember, through prayer, reflections, special music, and good deeds, what the true meaning of Jesus’ birth is.

Hmmm……. Another website that I came across, states that the Advent season invites us to step away from what can be a frenzied time of parties and shopping to consider how we commemorate the birth of Jesus, one of the holiest times in Christian faith. It is also a time to reflect on the triumphant return of Jesus at the second coming. 

Not only is the Christian meaning for preparation and celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ and his birth at Christmas, but also to celebrate the new life when someone accepts Jesus Christ as their Saviour, and lastly, the anticipation of Jesus returning again. 

Now, let us try to answer in groups, those two important questions in the light of where we are today, in the 21st Century:

Can you put the questions in the group chat, Dan/Reuben?

Since there are two questions appearing in the group chat, I’m going to be generous and allow 15 mns in the groups.


Welcome back! I hope the time you spent in your groups was fruitful? Does anyone want to tell me – and those who weren’t in your group, what conclusions you came to?

Well, let us end this session with prayer

Let us pray:

Father, we pray for those women who have waited and waited to bring forth another life into the world, but for some reason, it doesn’t happen – like my great niece, Maisie May.

Bring them comfort, hope and support in their grief and desolation.

Let us spend 2mns in silence and then we will end this session with a final prayer, which we will say together, so you will need to un-mute (unless Dan un-mutes you all automatically)

God of light, as you show us hope, shine forth and show us how to bring hope to others, especially those who may find themselves homeless at Christmas.

God of mercy, as you help us, help us to comfort your people and share in their joy.

God of hope, as you bring us hope each year, make us an Advent people, preparing the way for life in all its fullness.



This evening, Kathryn Price will be looking at what prompted Mary to visit her cousin, Elizabeth – and what she may have learned from her.

Thank you and I hope to see some of you this later on.