During a Christmas Eve service at a church where my husband and I didn’t know anybody, I half-listened to the pastor’s sermon. Christmas Eve services tend not to be an accurate barometer of a church’s culture or a preacher’s ability to connect. Besides Easter, there is no bigger day, no more intense anticipation. How many ways can we talk about the birth of Christ? It’s important–critical–in Christianity, of course, but it’s also hard to meet expectations. So as the pastor spoke, I mainly enjoyed the candles and Christmas lights adorning the sanctuary, wondered how much snow would be piled up on the car by the time we got out, and tuned in once in awhile to hear the usual words–Joseph, inn, virgin.
Then the pastor began to talk about Elizabeth, who was barren and wished for a child. The angel Gabriel came to her husband first, before Mary, and told him that Elizabeth would have a child, after years of being infertile. Zacharias was doubtful, so Gabriel told him he wouldn’t have use of his voice until the prophecy was realized. Elizabeth was made pregnant and gave birth to a baby around the same time that Mary had Jesus.
I knew Elizabeth was a figure in the New Testament. After all, she has my name–or I have hers. But I never paid attention to her story, a woman who became pregnant with a boy she never thought she’d have, until the moment I sat in that pew, pregnant with a boy I never thought I’d have. There is not much else said about Elizabeth during her pregnancy. Was she scared? Being her age and expecting a child? Was she hopeful? Was she optimistic–she did have the word of an angel, after all, that she would become a mother. I imagine she was all of these things. Yet I am more drawn to her husband, Zacharias because he admitted doubt and was then silenced. Zacharias was afraid, pessimistic, unable to believe that he could get what he’d been hoping for, and the punishment was the loss of his voice.
Before I became pregnant, I never knew that pregnancy could be a fearful time. A time when many women obsess about what they eat and whether they’re exposed to harmful chemicals. We are doubtful of our ability to grow and carry life, and instead of talking about how pregnancy can be complex in both its joy and its terror, we lose our voice. Who will want to hear about what we fear when we have been given such a gift? Who will be sympathetic to the vast responsibility of creating a person when it’s (often) something we’ve chosen? Here it is, what you’ve always wanted, now be happy and thankful and strong.
With no offense intended at Gabriel, bearer of good news and silencer of doubtful husbands, I’m trying to reclaim that voice, in small measures. It seems to be a two steps forward, one step back process. For instance, even writing this post has been…fraught. What to say, and how much to say, and whether it will all come back (in a magical thinking type of way) to bite me in the ass. All I want to do is open up a conversation, even if it’s just between me and the ether, about what it means to do something so big, and to admit that it’s scary. To acknowledge that it would be irresponsible, even, not to have fear, because fear is a sign that you know how big the stakes are. Fear during pregnancy is what prevents you from guzzling martinis and getting into hot tubs and going skydiving. Fear can exist next to our joy and anticipation, and it doesn’t make us less strong or less grateful.
In these last few months of my pregnancy, I’m reminding myself that I can be an Elizabeth-Zacharias hybrid. The woman who had almost given up hope; the husband who dared to voice doubt; the couple who were overwhelmed at the generosity of God’s gift. If it’s okay with Gabriel, I’m going to keep speaking through my uncertainty. And hope that it gives comfort to those who also doubt.