A New Year's Day Devotional

by Kimberly Pennington, National Correspondent |
With Mary looking on, Zechariah and Elizabeth lovingly cuddle their babe, John the Baptist.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- The start of a new year always brings hope for change. But what if a deeply-desired life change is completely outside of your control—something a New Year's resolution cannot solve?

Elizabeth and Zacharias faced such a situation.

Luke 1:6 describes this couple, both from priestly lineage, as righteous before God and walking blamelessly in all of His commandments and ordinances—a description reserved for very few people in Scripture (Joseph, the husband of Mary, being one other).

Still, despite their impeccable devotion to God, something important to their lives was missing: "But they had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years" (Luke 1:7).

Old Testament teachings describe children as evidence of God's favor and blessing, so childlessness was not merely an unfulfilled human desire but also a social stigma in ancient Jewish culture.

Why would God do this? Why would He withhold something He Himself declared to be His blessing from two of His most faithful followers? Given their devotion to the Him and His ways, they undoubtedly would have raised their children in the love and admonition of the Lord.

From a personal perspective, it made no sense then. From a historical perspective, it makes perfect sense now.

The one child Elizabeth eventually would bear had a unique role in history, given to him alone.

John the Baptist's purpose in life was to be the Messiah's forerunner, "a voice in the wilderness" who prepared people for the Savior's arrival. God timed John's birth perfectly with the birth of the Christ to fulfill His plan for the ages.

The same is true for his parents—their roles in history were unique, too.

Devout Jews, Zacharias and Elizabeth likely would have welcomed into their home as many children as God gave them. But if they had had children any earlier in life, Zacharias might not have been as motivated to be praying for a child and would have missed the gift of a son privileged to announce Jesus' coming.

In the same way, Elizabeth's late-in-life pregnancy was the very thing the angel Gabriel used to convince Mary that nothing, not even a virgin birth, was impossible for God. It was Elizabeth to whom Mary ran after learning she would be the mother of the Son of God. Because of God's unusual work in both their lives, these women shared a bond no other woman could share or understand.

In the end, experiencing life differently than their peers was God's perfect will for Zacharias and Elizabeth, though it came with suffering. Elizabeth hinted at the past pain after she became pregnant, saying God had taken away her "disgrace among men" (Luke 1:25). She had lived with the sting of the social stigma not doubting God, and she and her husband remained faithful to Him even without knowing the special plan He had for them.

Zacharias and Elizabeth are good examples for Christians today.

Ephesians 2:10 states God has prepared beforehand good works for people to walk in—good works to do despite relationship changes, employment challenges, health problems, or other life circumstances.

And He promises to reward our faithfulness.

At this time of year, it's a tradition to reflect on the past year and resolve to make changes for the new one—usually setting a goal to lose weight or to change a bad habit.

But for Christians, perhaps the best New Year's resolution we can make is to remain faithful, even when life is hard, as God shapes us to fulfill our respective unique roles in His plan for the ages.