This Christmas, Elizabeth’s story captures my attention. She was a woman who knew the sting of shame and discovered the miracle we all get to share: Christ removes our disgrace.
God chose Zechariah and Elizabeth to be the parents of John the Baptist, the prophet sent to prepare the people for Jesus’s coming. The Gospel of Luke introduces us by telling us four key facts about Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6-7):
- They were from the priestly lineage
- They were righteous people who obeyed God.
- Elizabeth was barren.
- They were very old.
That set of four facts wouldn’t have gone together in the minds of Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s friends and neighbors. Today, infertility is a heartbreaking struggle. For Elizabeth, that heartbreak would have been magnified by cultural expectations. Infertility was regarded as deeply shameful for a woman in biblical times. Most people in this time period regarded infertility as solely a woman’s problem, and Jewish interpreters considered infertility a valid reason for divorce.
Additionally, faithfulness was supposed to result in blessing–at least according to the way most people saw things. So if a man was born blind, either he or his parents had sinned (John 9:2). If a tower fell and killed eighteen people, they must have been sinners (Luke 13:4). And if a couple had been childless all their lives—well, maybe they weren’t as righteous as everyone thought they were.
Elizabeth knew disgrace. Her cry when at long last God answered her prayer has a ring of triumph:
“The Lord has done this for me,” she said, “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:25).
God removed Elizabeth’s disgrace and made her the mother of a miracle. Elizabeth followed in the footsteps of Sarah and Hannah as a barren woman who God chose to give birth. It was a sign that her neighbors should have recognized: God was writing a new chapter in the story of salvation, and Elizabeth’s son would help to turn the page. Her disgrace was gone, replaced by God’s favor and promise.
Christ removes our disgrace, too. The Old Testament gives us a foreshadowing of the reality Christ brings. Leviticus 16 describes how two goats were brought to the high priest as part of the atonement sacrifice. One was sacrificed to atone for the people’s sins. The second became the scapegoat.
The priest put his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed the people’s sin, symbolically transferring their sin to the goat. Then the scapegoat was led out of the camp and left in the wilderness, showing that the people’s disgrace had been removed.
Christ atones for our sin and removes our disgrace. His blood paid the price for our redemption, and he was crucified outside the city, bearing our disgrace (Hebrews 13:12-13). He is both scapegoat and atoning sacrifice, completely removing the stain of our sin. Christ removes our disgrace so we can experience God’s favor.
Like Elizabeth, we all have felt the sting of shame and bowed our heads in disgrace. But now God has shown us favor because of what Christ has done.
This Christmas, rejoice that God removes our disgrace. The shame is gone and joy has come. Our relationship with God is restored. Celebrate what the Lord has done.