Elizabeth: Finding Our Identity

Advent Study Session 2

Holy God, you gather us here in this place to begin our journey in Advent. May we breathe in your Spirit opening us to receive your message. In the disruption that paralyzes, either experienced or witnessed, you always invite us into a deeper faithfulness. Let us learn from each other and let Christ, the light, illumine and guide us. Amen.

Like many women in the biblical witness, Elizabeth’s identity and personhood is primarily defined by her roles in relationship to others in the story, as a wife, a mother, a vehicle through which an important part of Jesus’ “backstory” is moved forward.

Even “her” story is a trope; it is based on Hebrew Scripture predecessors like Sarai/Sarah and Hannah: righteous women, “barren,” good wives whose “disgrace” was taken away by God not just for their own blessing, but because God’s needs and the needs of the community required it.

 In a very real way, all three women are archetypes, though not ones to whom many contemporary women would easily relate.

  • For women who wish to bear children and can’t;
  • for women who juggle many roles and still don’t feel they have a clear identity;
  • for women who have struggled to be seen as more than a wife and/or mother;
  • for women for whom the choices to be made are confusing and difficult.

And in addition to reducing a woman’s value and identity to the single matter of whether she can or cannot bear a child, the very label, “barren,” evokes blame, guilt and judgment. Even today, women may hear that word as a triggering one, so pay gentle attention to the women in your group as you explore this lesson.

Elizabeth experiences her unexpected and late-in-life pregnancy as a blessing from God, and a chance to lay aside the unwelcome and ungenerous identity of barrenness that has been assigned to her. It is a mystery and a risk. It is perhaps not surprising that after discovering her condition, she moves into a period of seclusion for several months.

  • How will she navigate this perilous pregnancy?
  • Does she dare hope for a happy conclusion, a healthy birth?
  • What does it mean for her as a person, to become a mother at this moment and in this way?

The story of this family, and the stories of wife and husband, are undergoing a radical change … and yet they cannot talk about it; Zechariah cannot bring the comfort of words to the journey they are undertaking.

When the child is born, the images of isolation and exclusion evaporate, family and friends circle around to celebrate. She has a new and better place in her community’s eyes, and yet, when the time comes for the child to be named and she asserts his name is John, the neighbours and community members dismiss her words, and turn instead to her silent husband for corroboration of her claim.

Still, Elizabeth in her pregnancy claims her voice, her prophetic role and a compassionate presence as she reaches out in solidarity to the pregnant Mary.

Consolations & Desolations

Before we continue, and after asking such hard questions, let us pause to open ourselves up to God and experience our day thus far.

Share with each other in the group the answer to these two questions: “For what moment am I most grateful today?” And, “For what moment am I least grateful today?”

Read Luke 1:24-25; 57-63

What speaks to you immediately from the text about the birth of John thWhat speaks to you immediately from the text? What emotions does the text stir?

Learning About Elizabeth

  • Elizabeth, like her husband Zechariah, was a descendent of Aaron.
  • She finds herself in a long line of righteous women who longed to have a child, yet could not conceive.
  • Like Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who longed for a son, Elizabeth longs to give her husband an heir.
  • Like Hannah, wife of Elkanah, who pleaded with God for a son, promising to give him back to God when he was of age, Elizabeth has hope beyond hope that she will be so blessed.
  • In a patriarchal society, a woman’s value and identity were often reduced to the single matter of whether she could or could not bear a child, the very label, “barren,” evoked blame, guilt and judgment.

Clip 1: Loan’s Story

  • How does Loan’s personal experience as a child inform how she responds to the Syrian refugee crisis as an adult?
  • Who are Merritt and Amar and what consequences has the Syrian conflict had on the identities of their families?
  • How does Loan describe the formation of her identity (lived experience, heritage, knowledge)?

Clip 2: Flint and COVID-19

  • CHow can tragedy be formative in the development of our own individual identity?
  • How does tragedy and disruption impact and form a community identity?
  • Can you name some of the “ripple effects” you’ve seen from a collective disruption?
  • Are there themes from this clip that resonate with this week’s biblical text?

Discussion Questions:

1.Are there ways our church or community has responded to the Syrian refugee crisis since 2011?

2.Are there connections you can make between welcoming refugees and this week’s biblical text?

3.How much of your identity do you relate to individual formation and how much of it would you say is informed by collective (family members, community members, church) understanding?

4.Do you ever experience a gap between what you know of your identity and what other people perceive of you?

5.How did disruption change the way that Elizabeth thought of her identity in the text this week?

6.The role of faith and tradition can be subversive/transformative or, at other times, conserving/reinforcing of structures and systems that may not be serving the emergence of God’s kin-dom in our midst. How, and with whom, do we do the work of discernment that helps us embrace the necessary changes that disruption may invite us to consider?

7.How do any anchors in your sense of identity help you to navigate disruptions?

8.Have you seen this to be true for the protagonists in the film’s clips as well?

9.What kinds of “barrenness” do we experience in our lives, our families, our communities? How do they shape how we see ourselves, how others see us? Is there anything we might observe from the enforced isolation of COVID-19 that might illuminate the experience of Elizabeth?

10.How do our various identities — and how those identities position us in our communities and in the world — help to bring “good trouble” to the work of disruption and to invite others to join with us in what our Jewish neighbors call “tikkun olam,” or world repair?

Next Session

IIn the next session, we will move across to a family connection of Zechariah and Elizabeth and discover how Joseph found courage.

Closing Prayer

Lord, I pray that I would stop trying to find my identity in anything other than being Your child, a child of the King and a citizen in the Kingdom of God. Thank You for this amazing grace in my life! Lord, help me see the minute I start placing my identity in something else- my children, my career, my marriage, my gifts and talents. Help me in those moments to remember that all of those things—even though they are good gifts—will never satisfy me the way You will. Help me keep you before me in all things. In Jesus’ Name, Amen! (Rick Warren)

Session 2 of 4 in series “Annunciations: Disruption & Invitation”. The interactive Advent study series using award winning documentary resources was collated by Presbyterian Church (USA) and adapted for personal and group study at St Johns Papatoetoe.

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