But [Zechariah and Elizabeth} had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were
getting on in years.
--Luke 2:7 NRSV
At the age of 48, I am struggling to accept that I am in the second half of my life. I’m well aware that 48 isn’t “old” but I wouldn’t say I feel “young” anymore. I’m beginning to have back pains that I swear I didn’t have only a few years ago. I’m not sure when it happened, but some time ago I stopped listening to popular music altogether. The music from my teens and twenties just sounds better to me than what’s on the radio today. My teenage sons roll their eyes at me when I complain that the music they listen to just doesn’t sound like music to me. I see twenty-somethings and I wonder, “Did I seem so young when I was their age? I remember thinking I was grown up and knew everything.” It has become a little bit of an effort to look forward to what is still to come in my life, because the pull of looking backward feels so strong.
I have talked with a lot of older folks over the years--people in their seventies, eighties and nineties. I have heard them describe what it is like to have more life behind you than in front of you. That always made sense to me, but I’d say now that I’m past mid-life I’m beginning to understand what they mean at a deeper level. There is a temptation that grows ever stronger to believe one’s best days are in the rearview mirror and that feeling brings a particular kind of grief which must be reckoned with.
I have been pondering this part of aging, I guess, so when I read writer and minister Tony Robinson’s take on the Advent story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, it rocked my consciousness a bit. We read the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth during Advent, because it is a part of Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus. This older couple have never had children but are informed by an angel that they will have a son, John the Baptist. Like Abraham and Sarah before them, God is blessing an older couple with new life they had believed was impossible. Robinson writes the following about this story:
Sometimes in the Christmas focus on children, on the young woman Mary and the birth in the manger, we miss another element in the story of Christ's birth. There is grace here not just for the young, but for the old, or older, as well. It's not hard, is it, to see the possibility of new life and new beginnings, when we are young or in the lives of the young? It may be more difficult to imagine such grace and newness when we are well beyond that time of life, when the future is no longer so open or full of promise as it once seemed. All the more reason then to receive the gift of this part of the story, the promise of grace and new life, not only for the young, but for no-longer-young too. Grace happens, surprise and new life can come, no matter what our age.
No, I don’t believe retirement communities will suddenly erupt with geriatric pregnancies, I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of Luke’s story. Luke wants us to see the story of Jesus Christ is connected with the larger story of God told to us in the Hebrew Bible. Throughout scripture we find God offering people new life where none seemed possible, abundance where only seemed to exist scarcity. The God of the Bible and of Jesus Christ doesn’t create us with a Sell By Date after which we are spoiled and used up. Blessings await people who have more life in their rearview mirror than out their front windshield.
In our culture which worships youth, Robinson correctly notes that it’s probably easier for us to imagine new life with the young Mary and Joseph, but Zechariah and Elizabeth remind us that God’s surprises and new life are for people of all ages.
I have known people who acted old, worn out and tired long before they were old enough to really act that way. I have also known people who were old in years but you would never guess it, because they were so full of life that old age didn’t seem to stick to them. I’m beginning to think that a difference between the two might be a trust that more blessings were still to come rather than a fatalistic mindset of life having already passed them by.
My teenagers tell me around the dinner table in the evenings about what their favorite YouTuber said that day or what they watched on TikTok and I begin to feel like I have pulled over on the side of life’s freeway with my out of touch blinkers on. Yet, the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth gives me a different outlook. Their story encourages me to keep driving forward with excitement about what is yet to be in this one precious life I’ve been given.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851