How to Cope with Barren Seasons

Scripture Focus: Luke 1.5-7
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

From John: This month, on Tuesdays, we welcome guest writer, Dena Dyer. Dena graciously has donated her talents to our ministry in many ways, including sharing her wisdom about writing with our student writers in online sessions. I know you will be blessed by her series this month on weary women of the Bible.

Reflection: How to Cope with Barren Seasons
By Dena Dyer

Imagine with me: Elizabeth, a barren older woman married to the priest Zechariah, prepares a simple supper of fish, bread, and figs for her husband. Perhaps she hears children playing, and her heart grows heavy with the sound. 

Suddenly, Zechariah bursts through the door, motioning for his wife to sit. He rushes around the room, finding first a tablet and then a writing instrument. Elizabeth’s brow furrows as she sits down. Her hand flutters towards her chest, as if to quell the furious beating in her heart. Has he become gravely ill? Is that why he isn’t speaking? Or has something happened in the temple?

As her worries mount, Zechariah reveals on the tablet the astounding news the angel Gabriel told him. 

At first, she laughs in disbelief, just like her ancestor Sarah did. Then she sees Zechariah’s face. “You’re serious!” she exclaims, as her husband takes her in his arms. They embrace for a long time as tears stream down their faces. Their God has blessed them, more than they could have ever imagined. 

Luke 1:25 notes that Elizabeth said, ‘Look what the Lord has done for me! My people were ashamed of me, but now the Lord has taken away that shame.” In biblical times, infertility was seen as a curse. Husbands with barren wives could even divorce them and find another woman to bear their children.

Elizabeth’s name means “God is my oath” or “My God is good fortune.” God took note of the elderly couple’s obedience to keep their oaths to Him, and they experienced the good fortune God showered down on them. Elizabeth gave birth to the baby who would grow up to be John the Baptist. He paved the way for, and baptized, the Savior of the world. Indeed, God overwhelmed her with mercy. 

Later in the first chapter of Luke, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when her cousin Mary, pregnant with the promised Messiah, visited the older woman. Elizabeth says to Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear…Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’”

We all have barren places in our lives, areas which are littered with broken dreams and unanswered prayers. God’s ways are mysterious, which means we don’t often get to see the big picture or realize why He allows us to suffer. Yet, He challenges us to draw near to Him and pour out our souls, trusting in His character instead of shutting Him out or running from Him.

If we’re to have a heart that honors Him, let’s model our faith after Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s and not allow unanswered prayers to determine whether we’ll be obedient or not. Because we know He is rich in mercy and extravagant in grace, let’s pray in confident expectation that God is working ALL things, even barren seasons, for His purposes and glory.

Whether we see our prayers answered here or in our future heavenly home, we will be blessed when we believe that God will fulfill His promises to us.

About Dena: Dena Dyer is an author of eleven books, including Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts with Tina Samples. She’s also a speaker, worship leader, Anglophile, and movie lover who lives with her husband, youngest son, and rescue pup near Fort Worth, Texas. In her day job, she serves as Executive Assistant to Jamie Aten, founder of Wheaton’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute. Find out more about Dena’s books and resources at her website or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 1 (Listen – 3:54) 
1 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 4:25)

Read more about From the Belly of the Beast
Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.

Read more about Under His Covering
She trusted him to provide for her in a myriad ways and leaned on him to give her strength throughout Jesus’ birth and life.

Becoming a Blessing

Scripture Focus: Genesis 48.14, 17-20
14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn…

17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” 

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” 20 He blessed them that day…

Luke 1.46-47
46 My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Reflection: Becoming a Blessing
By John Tillman

It took generations for the blessing God promised to grow and come to pass but we see glimpses of it in the process, such as the way, through Joseph, Egypt and the surrounding countries were blessed.

God’s blessing that he promised would come through Abram continued to grow more detailed and more defined as time went on. He changed his people as he went.

In Israel’s crossed arms, we see God subtly pushing to overturn unfair practices. Even though Israel sets Ephraim first, he provides an equivalent blessing to them both rather than a blessing similar to the one Jacob had stolen from Esau.

Eventually, a young girl descended from Judah would pronounce the fulfillment of and growth of the promise of blessing. The good news Mary proclaimed was also an overturning of blessings. The poor would be filled. The rich would go away empty. (In The Face of Wonder)

Today we will pray a prayer based on the blessing spoken to Abram, the blessing spoken over Ephraim and Manassah, and the blessing spoken by Mary to all people.

Becoming a Blessing
From Abram, you made a great nation
Through Abram, you promised to bless the nations
Make us, O Lord, a blessing in our nations

You blessed Jacob, renaming him Israel
Israel gave the blessing of being called by his name
To his children and his children’s children
Rename us, O Lord
Remake us, O Lord, worthy to be called by your name

May our pursuit of holiness increase in your name
May our ways of righteousness increase in your name
May our working of justice increase in your name

Through Mary, you helped your servant, Israel
You remembered to be merciful
You did great things for the small
Your powerful arm worked mightily for the weak
Your rich blessings poured out to satisfy the hungry
Yet, those who considered themselves full and rich went away empty

Our broken world seeks righteousness.
Bring it through us.
Our lost world seeks truth.
Speak it through us.
Our hurting world seeks justice.
Work it through us.
Our sickened world seeks healing.
Heal it through us.

May no king gain our fealty.
May no prince dominate our praise.
May our soul glorify only you, our Savior.
May our spirit rejoice only in the true and only God.

Make and remake us, Lord, into a blessing.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
The Lord is King; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad. — Psalm 97.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 48 (Listen – 3:43) 
Luke 1.39-80 (Listen – 5:16)

Read more about In The Face of Wonder
Your glory, Lord, overcoming and transforming our weaknesses is cause for our souls to sing.

Read more about Identity Lost, Identity Gained
God, our father, longs to bless us with every spiritual blessing. No one who comes to him will need cry, “Do you have only one blessing, my father?”

The Wexford Carol — Carols of Advent Joy

Scripture Focus: John 7.37-28
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

Luke 1.46-50
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.
   From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
   holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
   from generation to generation.

Reflection: The Wexford Carol — Carols of Advent Joy
By Jon Polk

The history of “The Wexford Carol” is uncertain and complicated.

“The Wexford Carol” is one of Ireland’s most beloved Christmas carols. While thought to be among the oldest Christmas carols still in use, the exact dates of its origin are uncertain.

“The Wexford Carol” was published in 1928, in a collection by William Flood, music director at St. Aiden’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, after he had heard it performed by a local vocalist.

However, the song has also been associated with Bishop Luke Waddinge from Ballycogley, County Wexford, who also published the hymn in his collection in 1684. 

The lyrics supposedly originate from the 12th century, but the rhyme and structure appear to date from the 16th century or later. There is also debate whether the original lyrics were actually Irish or English.

Although tracing the history of “The Wexford Carol” is complicated, the song itself is not, being a joyful recounting of the night of Christ’s birth.

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His beloved Son.

The pregnancy of Mary was uncertain and complicated.

A young, simple Jewish girl is found to be pregnant under mysterious and uncertain circumstances. Claims of an angel’s visit and divine proclamation. A fiancé who receives a nocturnal, angelic intervention. 

Likely scared and confused, young Mary hurries off to another town to seek advice from cousin Elizabeth. When Elizabeth is prompted by the Holy Spirit to confirm the miraculous Divinity growing in Mary’s womb, Mary proclaims her joy, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”

Although the pregnancy of Mary was complicated, her ultimate response to God is not, being a joyful acceptance of the role she has been given to play in the divine drama.

With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day;
In Bethlehem upon the morn
There was a blest Messiah born.

The times in which we live are uncertain and complicated.

The weight of a global pandemic, the stress of political strife on every continent, disparities of power and economic status, all loom large in our collective consciousness, not to mention the personal and specific struggles each of us face on our own.

Although our lives and times are complicated, our response should not be. Let us rejoice along with Mary. Let us take joy in knowing that our lives are secure in the hands of God. 

Within a manger He was laid,
And by His side the virgin maid
Attending to the Lord of Life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.


Listen: The Wexford Carol by Yo-Yo Ma & Alison Krauss
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org
Bonus Listen: Magnificat (i.e. Mary’s Song) by Keith & Kristyn Getty

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. — Psalm 85.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 4 (Listen – 1:53)
John 7 (Listen – 5:53)

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She takes within her body
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Good Christian Men, Rejoice — Carols of Advent Joy

Scripture Focus: John 5.24-26
24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.

Luke 1.31-33
31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.

Reflection: Good Christian Men, Rejoice — Carols of Advent Joy
By Jon Polk

There is a fascinating story behind the origins of the nearly seven-hundred year-old Christmas carol, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”

The original text of this hymn, “In Dulci Jubilo,” was written by German mystic and Dominican monk, Heinrich Seuse, sometime in the early 1300s. Folklore relates that Seuse had a vision in which he heard angels singing the words of the hymn and upon hearing them, he joined with the angels in a dance of joy.

Good Christian men rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Give ye heed to what we say
Jesus Christ is born today!
Ox and ass before Him bow
And He is in the manger now
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!

Seuse’s biography states:

Now this same angel came up to [Seuse] brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew [Seuse] by the hand into the dance, and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus.

Who wouldn’t want to sluff off their sufferings and sorrows and dance with an angel choir in reckless abandonment and joy?

While Advent marks the beginning of the church’s liturgical year, it is also providential that this season falls at the end of the calendar year. For it is this period in which we are often most reflective and contemplative about life and the experiences of the previous twelve months. In some years, such as this one, the exercise of remembering can be disheartening.

Therefore, we need joy.

We need to dance.

We need to be reminded of the one who has borne our suffering and sorrow.

We need to choose to embrace true joy, even in the midst of difficulty.

The original version of “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” is one of the oldest examples of a macaronic hymn, a song text in multiple languages, in this case both Latin and German. Because of this, later Reformers would use this hymn and others in congregational singing. Since worship services of the day were conducted in Latin, the German vernacular in hymn texts served to proclaim truth to the largely uneducated common folk.

What truths does this carol proclaim? Wherein is found our joy?

Jesus Christ was born today!

Jesus Christ was born for this!

Jesus Christ was born to save!

In light of this good news, let us all rejoice with heart and soul and voice!

Listen: Good Christian Men, Rejoice by Smalltown Poets
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed. — Psalm 71.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 2 (Listen – 1:41)
John 5 (Listen – 5:42)

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Read more about He Rejoices Over Us — Love of Advent
Zephaniah looks forward with joy to when Israel’s purpose would be fulfilled in God.

In the Face of the Impossible

Luke 1.18, 34, 37
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
“…no word from God will ever fail.”

Reflection: In the Face of the Impossible
By John Tillman

Luke plunges into visionary tales of the impossible and people who, to one degree or another, expressed doubts, reservations, and fears, and felt themselves unqualified for the task.

Madeleine L’Engle, in her book, Walking on Water marvels at how often God gave glorious visions and impossible tasks to those who were ill equipped.

“We are all asked to do more than we can do. Every hero and heroine of the Bible does more than he would have thought it possible to do, from Gideon, to Esther, to Mary. Jacob, one of my favorite characters, certainly wasn’t qualified. He was a liar and a cheat; and yet he was given the extraordinary vision of angels and archangels ascending and descending a ladder which reached from earth to heaven.

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, Nathanael is given a glimpse of what Jacob saw, or a promise of it, and he wasn’t qualified, either. He was narrow-minded and unimaginative, and when Philip told him that Jesus of Nazareth was the one they sought, his rather cynical response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And yet it was to Nathanael that Jesus promised the vision of angels and archangels ascending and descending upon the son of man.”

God’s chooses to do the impossible with the unqualified, to frustrate the wise with the foolish, and to overthrow the strong with the weak. He subverts the systems we rely on and reminds us that our competence is an illusion and his grace shown through us comprises all that is good in the world.

We face the impossible, like Zechariah, when the world sees us as cursed and broken.
We face the impossible, like Mary, when the world strives to keep us powerless and vulnerable.

In the face of the impossible we are forced to keep our faith where it always should have been—on God. We are not qualified, but, L’Engle concludes, God will be glorified.

“In a very real sense, not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.“

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 47 (Listen – 5:03) 
Luke 1.1-38 (Listen – 9:26)

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Read more about Ready to do Good
Can we really be expected not to counter-attack those who attack us with falsehoods? We tend to answer Paul by saying, “Sorry. That’s not possible or practical.”

Read more about Accepting Jesus
Her body returned to dust,
Like all who lived and died.
But that part she gave to him,
Is incorruptible! Eternal! Alive!

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