[Elizabeth speaking]: ‘I have lived with the disgrace of being barren for all these years. Now God has looked on me with favor. When I go out in public … I will not be disgraced any longer.’ ~Luke 1:25
I love Elizabeth’s story in the advent of Jesus’ birth. I relate to her. She lived the right rules for her society and church culture. She made wise life choices. She lived her life the way she believed God wanted. Yet, she lived in disgrace. In her society, a married woman’s identity rested in her ability to provide children who would care for aged parents and carry on the family name. Having children meant God liked you and ensured that you would not be forgotten. Living well had not provided children for her and her husband; and when they enter into Jesus’ story, their age prevents hope of ever having children.
Until God takes notice of them.
I wonder how many times she prayed and hoped each month, as a young bride, that maybe this month she would experience pregnancy? I wonder how many months she cried when hope never fulfilled itself? I wonder how many years before hope turned to shame and disgrace. In her own recorded words, we know that she felt that public shame. I wonder if she, like so many of us, made peace with her shame and accepted it as her ‘lot in life.’
This acceptance of shame is different than accepting the reality of circumstances. I’ve often said that the only thing I took away from geometry class is: You can’t change ‘the given.’ Sometimes, we fight against circumstances and limitations that we cannot change. We exert a lot of effort frustrating ourselves and others trying to rework our past or not acknowledging how our past affects our present. But, the acceptance of shame means that we’ve grown comfortable believing that our shame is our identity. And not just that we’ve accepted the shameful identity; but we’ve also accepted others’ judgements against us and believe we deserve the shameful identity.
Because shame and disgrace are pretty universal to humanity, I love the stories of Jesus. He took people’s shame and turned it into blessing. He took the lives that society shunned and created restoration and reconciliation. He noticed outcast people, marginalized people, underprivileged people, powerless people. Jesus changed their ‘given.’
Just as God changed Elizabeth’s ‘given’ and allowed this barren couple to conceive, deliver and raise John the Baptist–the harbinger of Jesus.
I wish I had a step-by-step formula to release people from shame. I wish our world would celebrate differences and not war against them.
While I don’t have a formula, I do know a person who lived the example of God’s heart. I love that we celebrate His birth–the beginnings of hope, wonder, expectancy. He lived life at times confusing His disciples, many times infuriating religious leaders who wanted formulas, but always un-ashamedly loving and accepting the ones living in disgrace.
We see at the birth of Jesus, God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Humbly born, He relates to our shame.
I take courage that God notices us in our shame and invites us into His story.
Have you felt like a misfit? Have you believed that your shame separates you from society? Have you believed your shame separates you from God? How can you begin to encounter Jesus this advent season and allow Him to heal the wounds caused by shame?