He looked over his shoulder to catch a final glimpse of the lamps burning in the windows of the small, flat-roofed houses. His thoughts, as he rounded the hill and noticed the first glimmer of daylight on the eastern horizon, were of his wife. Her sadness at his departures weighed heavily upon him ever since their reality had struck its final blow.
"It is too late, Zechariah," she had mumbled on that warm, spring evening several months earlier. "The physicians and the midwives have all said that I am past my opportunity. I can never bear us a child." Her tears fell silently and ceaselessly that night. He fought for words to console her, but she wept still.
He thought about the finality of it as he pulled his cloak tighter against the chill. Riding on, his mind jumped to their goodbye a half-hour ago. Would she never feel joy again? Could she never know that his love for her grew deeper as the years passed, whether she bore him a child or not?
"Steady," he whispered to his old mule as they wound down the hillside. "You know these rocks are loose. That's right, boy, be sure of your footing."
Each minute the darkened shapes of the hills grew richer with color. The purples of the sunrise were being accompanied by the early-morning songs of sparrows. A coney bounded up the trail just ahead of them. One part of Zechariah's heart wanted to leap with the same joy as this waking morning. "I am on my way to the Temple of the Eternal," he said to himself. "It is once again my privilege to serve as a priest!" But his joy was hidden in the shadows of heartache and disappointment.
His thoughts returned to Elizabeth. Always before, she had sent him to Jerusalem with the whisper, "Perhaps this time the Eternal will answer our prayers and we will have a son!" This morning, however, she handed him his cloak and some food and said simply, "Goodbye, husband."
To my readers: the events surrounding the birth of Christ are given extensive coverage in Scripture. The parts we don't always know about are the human elements, especially from the viewpoint of the participants. My attempt this Christmas is to stay true to the Biblical text, while shading in what it may have been like "between the lines." Please distinguish my ruminations from God's Word by reading the first few chapters of Matthew and Luke. My hope is that reading my words impacts you even a tiny percentage as much as writing them has impacted me.