Luke 1:24-25 (ESV)
 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying,  “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 5:1 says, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.” These things were done at a specific time in history, with specific people, from a particular family of Israel, and a specific division within the Levites. This is not a tale or myth around which we build our faith. It is an actual event rooted in real time and space.
The description of Zechariah and Elizabeth is of particular interest. Luke 1:6-7 say, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child. . .” The perspective of the religious community at that time would be that their childlessness was an indication of sin. The Mosaic Covenant promised blessing and fruitfulness as a result of obedience. If this couple were really “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord,” then surely they would have children. The fact that they are elderly and have never had a child would have been considered evidence of sin in their lives. Yet God’s description of them is that “they were both righteous before God.”
Things are not always as they appear. Individuals who appear to be righteous and holy may be found to be hiding secret sin. Those who appear to us to be sinful, may in fact be truly listening to God and growing in faith. Our judgments are almost always made based on outward appearance. When Samuel went to anoint the next King of Israel, God warned him, “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1Sam 16:7). What we see is not necessarily what God sees.
A childless, elderly couple is considered righteous by God. An unmarried, young woman from a small town out in the country finds favor with God to carry Messiah into the world. Messiah arrives on the scene as a child born of humble circumstances and as an adult, goes on to be crucified as a criminal. We are too often concerned about appearance, titles, roles, . . . We want people to know how important we are. As a result, we rarely let people see who we really are.
I recall thinking, as a young pastor, that if people really knew who I was they wouldn’t want me to be their pastor. If they really knew the thoughts that cross my mind, they way I treat my wife, the way I spend my money, they would reject me. Rather than humbling myself before God, I was trying to maintain a certain façade before men. That kind of thinking still pops up regularly and I need to confess and reject it. But let’s be honest, we are all too concerned about appearance and too little concerned about the true condition of our hearts.
For Elizabeth, God removed her reproach by giving her a child (Lk 1:25), but the more important truth is that God found them both righteous in his sight. Who but God would have started the story of Messiah with a childless, elderly couple and an obscure young woman? At the heart of the Christmas story is the concept of humility. Life is not about me, and it is not about what people think of me. Just the other day I met someone and the thought popped into my head, “I wonder if this person knows how important I am?” Wow! Really? Shouldn’t I be thinking about how important that individual is in the sight of God? Shouldn’t I be listening instead of talking? But pride raises its head at the most inopportune times. In those times we can only make a silent confession to God and listen better. At the heart of Christmas is the concept of humility. May that be increasingly true in our lives.