In the familiar cast of characters from the Christmas story, we find three women. While each has a very different life, their stories are woven together by the common threads of God’s miraculous intervention and their own quiet faithfulness.
It is easy to forget that, up until Jesus’ birth, these women had no idea they would see, much less be part of, the Messiah’s arrival. We see them at the most significant moment of their lives—their personal encounter with God Incarnate.
But we don’t see the years—indeed, the lifetimes—leading up to that moment. We don’t see their decades of obedience lived in obscurity. We don’t see the hidden lessons that prepared them for what the Lord had in store. We don’t see their quiet faithfulness.
When we meet Elizabeth, we learn that she has been unable to conceive and have a child. You likely already know the significance of children among Israelite women. Bearing children demonstrated that you were blessed. It was proof that you were part of the covenant between the Lord and His people. Infertility, then, wasn’t just personally painful; it was socially shameful.
Luke 1:7 notes Elizabeth was “well advanced in years.” She was well past the season of childbearing and past the possibility of receiving the desire of her heart. The years had worn away her hope of motherhood. You can imagine the deep pain and grief she must have felt as the years of potential came to a seemingly permanent close.
Which makes this next detail so meaningful: She still lived a godly, blameless life before God. Elizabeth was faithful to obey the Lord even after decades of unfulfilled longing. In her pain, she didn’t turn away from or become embittered with the Lord. Instead, she was faithful to follow Him with her whole life. Elizabeth’s faith was not transactional. She obeyed God, not in order to receive His gifts, but to worship Him as the Giver.
When she learned that, in her old age, God would answer her prayer, her entire perspective of her pain would have changed in an instant. Her son would fulfill a centuries-long prophecy and be part of God’s redemptive plan (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 3:1). Even more, God would use her unfulfilled longing and seemingly unanswered prayers to ready her for what He had planned all along—to give her a son who would announce the coming of His Son.
God wasn’t ignoring her. He was preparing her. Elizabeth couldn’t see that at the time, of course. But she chose quiet faithfulness.
Then there’s Mary...
The young woman through whom the Messiah was born. Mary teaches us just how much an unlimited God can do through simple, pure-hearted faith. When God’s messenger, Gabriel, told Mary that she would bear the Messiah, she didn’t ask how she could know the Lord would fulfill His plan. She didn’t ask for a sign. She simply asked how God would accomplish what He said He would do, knowing that nothing was impossible for Him. Here, Mary—an uneducated, peasant girl—responds with greater faith than Zachariah, an educated, Levite priest.
Throughout the Bible, the Lord acts in ways that contradict what the world values. He chooses the unlikely people to accomplish His plans. God works upside down from the word. Jesus conveyed this in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1-12): “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the meek…the peacemakers.” God sent the Messiah through a most unexpected woman.
To fully appreciate how Mary responded in faith, and how remarkable it was that the Messiah would be born of a peasant girl, we also need to know how women were regarded in this time. In the world into which Jesus was born, women were second-class citizens, at best. Women were moral contagions, temptresses that caused the downfall of otherwise righteous men. The Pharisees warned that even speaking with a woman too much would lead to adultery. A good Jew—certainly an upright Jew—wouldn’t risk his piety by associating himself with a woman. So the idea that the Lord would live in and be born of a woman? Unfathomable. Scandalous. Upside-down.
Yet Mary was unphased, fully surrendered to the Lord’s will and humbly receiving what God had ordained. Not even the scorn she would endure deterred her from calling herself “the maidservant of the Lord” (Lk. 1:38). Such remarkable faith doesn’t happen instantaneously. It’s the result of quiet faithfulness.
Lastly, we meet Anna...
While we don’t have much about Anna (Lk. 2:36-38), what we do learn from her is a word especially for our times. Anna was a widow of at least 84 years (some say she may even have been 105 or 110 years old!) who spent decades serving the Lord in the Temple, and she was one of two faithful saints to meet the Infant King.
To be a widow was one of the lowest social statuses in Israel. Widows were usually impoverished and dependent on the care of others. Anna invested her life in what she couldn’t lose. Her years of widowhood didn’t keep her from having purpose in God’s Kingdom.
Anna’s age meant she would have witnessed some significant moments in Jewish history. She would have been in Jerusalem during the siege of Pompey in 63 B.C. During this time, the Temple was desecrated when Pompey entered the Holy of Holies. She would have been there at the beginning of the Roman occupation. She would have seen political upheaval, cultural change, and religious factions among the Jews. Political unrest and division among God’s people… can you imagine?!
Anna’s life revolved around worshipping and seeking the Lord. Hers was a contemplative, spiritual life that, perhaps from our perspective, may not have seemed all that impressive. Certainly not very “productive.” But Anna would not have fallen into the trap we so often do, confusing a busy life with a worthy life. Instead, she pursued the presence of God. How we need her example!
The Lord saw and cherished the hidden ways Anna served Him in obscurity. Before her earthly life ended, He allowed her to see the Messiah. Anna was indeed a woman of quiet faithfulness.
Not that different...
You may feel forgotten, as though God is silent when you pray. But He is always working during times of waiting. It was true for Elizabeth, and it’s true for you.
You may feel overlooked, but with a mustard seed-size of faith, God can do the impossible. It was true for Mary, and it’s true for you.
You may feel insignificant, serving God and wondering if it really matters. But God saves His greatest treasures to those who seek Him with a pure heart. It was true for Anna, and it’s true for you.
This Christmas, as we remember and cherish the coming of the Messiah, may we realign our hearts to wait on Him expectantly, surrender as God’s devoted servants, and dedicate our souls to serve Him entirely.
Katie McCoy is the director of Women’s Ministry for Texas Baptists.