Jealousy. Envy. Competition.
We can sometimes get so caught up in comparing ourselves to others, that we find it difficult to celebrate their successes. If someone else experiences a joy (or even a sorrow) that overshadows ours, we find ourselves upset that their joy (or pain) seems more important than our own.
God has given us each other so that we can share our struggles, hopes, fears, and joys with one another. When we allow our focus to be on ourselves, however, we miss out on the blessing of true friendship.
Rejoicing with Others: Lessons from Elizabeth
The first woman who appears in the Christmas story is Elizabeth. The wife of Zechariah, a priest, she was barren and well past child-bearing years when the story begins.
At the time, no prophet had spoken in Israel in 400 years. The people were under Roman occupation and waiting for the Word of God to be fulfilled, for the Messiah to come and save them.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, announcing the birth of a son to his wife, Elizabeth. This son would be named John, and he would go before the Lord to prepare the people.
“Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.Luke 1:16-17, NIV 84
Can you imagine what Elizabeth must have felt when she realized she really was having a baby in her old age? Her husband was so astounded by the news that his disbelief caused the angel to render him mute until the birth!
Elizabeth, however, was overjoyed that the Lord had blessed her in such a way.
“After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘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 1:24-25
The NIV Study Bible text note says this about her seclusion:
“In joy, devotion and gratitude that the Lord had taken away her childlessness.”NIV Study Bible, 1536
Elizabeth spent five months rejoicing with Zechariah over what God had done. She didn’t go to the market and tell everyone that she was finally having a baby, that God had removed her disgrace. She didn’t post a cute picture of her baby bump on Instagram.
She rejoiced only with God and her husband for what God alone had done.
But then Mary, her relative, had a visit from Gabriel, too. She also would have a Child, but He would be the Son of God.
“So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”Luke 1:35b-37
So, when Elizabeth was six months pregnant, after keeping all that God had done in her life to herself, Mary showed up with news of her own.
“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”Luke 1:39-41
Elizabeth had no idea what was going on prior to Mary’s arrival. She hadn’t received a text that Mary was on the way. She knew only that her own child was special. She knew he would “be a joy and delight” and that many would “rejoice because of his birth” (1:14).
The angel had prepared Zechariah and Elizabeth with news that their child would be “great in the sight of the Lord” and “filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth” (1:15).
But none of that knowledge caused Elizabeth to miss what was happening in Mary’s life. When that baby leaped in her womb, she was empowered by the Holy Spirit to declare what God was doing through Mary.
“In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?'”Luke 1:42-43
I love that she got loud! Her heart was completely focused on what God was doing in and through her friend. I’m sure she was dying to share her own news. I mean, after all, barrenness was cause for shame and dishonor in their culture. She was experiencing her own miracle.
But Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit of God. And she was overjoyed for Mary. It was Mary’s moment to shine.
“‘As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.'”Luke 1:44-45
Oh, that our hearts would be so focused on what God is doing in the lives of those around us that we wouldn’t become upset when someone else is getting the spotlight.
Sometimes we are hurting, but someone else needs our comfort. At times we are winning, but someone else needs to be celebrated. It takes real Christian maturity to focus on others’ needs when we have needs of our own. But that’s what trusting God is all about.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.”Romans 12:15-16a
I love this next part of the story:
“Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.”Luke 1:56
Seriously, Luke?? You couldn’t give us a few more details?
Remember, Elizabeth was six months when Mary arrived, so apparently she stayed until the birth of John. I imagine Elizabeth shared with her all that God had done. I’m sure they enjoyed many days of conversation, sharing their hopes, fears, and joys to come.
That’s what true friendship between mature Christians looks like: Selflessness, humility, building each other up, rather than jealousy, envy, and competing for attention.
As we enter the holiday season, may the Holy Spirit empower us to focus outward, not seeking attention of our own, but making much of others. May we be so in tune with the Lord, that we are attentive to needs around us, encouraging, rejoicing, and comforting others as needed.
In doing so, God will also meet our needs and send the encouragement and comfort we need, even if it only comes from Him. He is Immanuel, God with us. And He makes much of us.