Author Liz Curtis Higgs helps listeners reflect on Christmas by looking at it through the eyes of three women in the New Testament, offering a fresh perspective on how Jesus' coming to earth impacted those around him, and can impact your family this Christmas, too.
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John Fuller: Well, can you believe it, it's already Christmas time and for some, it's a blessed season. For others, oh, it's a busy season. And if you haven't yet gotten into the true spirit of Christmas, you will after hearing today's "Focus on the Family" with our president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I'm about "footballed out." I love football; that's my weakness at this—
John: Are you not--
Jim: --time of the year.
John: --"turkeyed out?" (Laughter)
Jim: I can eat turkey all day long.
John: Turkey and football, yea! (Laughter)
Jim: Jean has a little to-do list for me though, like time to put the lights up and all that kind of thing, so--
John: Oh, yeah.
Jim: --this time of year is usually pretty busy. But you know what? We want to talk about today kind of the true meaning of Christmas. What's it all about? And I think we're gonna talk about a very unique topic today that puts a smile on God's face and we have a special guest to do that. Liz Curtis Higgs is joining us. She's right here in Kentucky. We happen to be in Kentucky today.
John: Yeah, it's great to be on the campus of Asbury University and what a—
Jim: It is.
John: --what an awesome facility, but even better than all the structures and the great equipment they have, Jim, are the people.
John: What wonderful hosts they've been for us here.
Jim: Well, for years I've heard so much about this university and I can tell you, they are special people. It's a great place. Liz has written many books, usually about girls. She's written The Bad Girls of the Bible and Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible (Laughter) and then Really Bad Girls of the Bible. (Laughter) But now we're gonna talk about the girls of Christmas really The Women of Christmas and Liz, it is great to have you with us.
Liz Curtis Higgs: Oh, it's a blessing to be here. Yeah, these women actually, of course, qualify as "good girls of the Bible."
Jim: Yeah, the good girls.
Liz: The question was, could I handle—
John: You found some good girls.
Liz: --it, you know; could I do it? (Laughter) Yeah.
Jim: No, that's great. Now let me ask you with Christmas right around the corner, I mean, we're at the end of November here and Christmas is staring us down. We're thinking already about all the "to-do's."
Jim: But what's a special part of Christmas for you? What do you think of that puts a smile on your face?
Liz: Oh, well, I'm all about the music, I have to be honest. And all the music that leads up to Christmas and personally, I don't think you actually get to play it till today.
Jim: (Chuckling) Oh, is that right?
Liz: I like to give—
Liz: --Thanksgiving its due and have November be about Thanksgiving. But now, officially, we can play Christmas music right up until the day.
Jim: Oh that's …
Liz: And yeah, it's just always the words are so precious; the older Christmas carols are so rooted in the Word and there's so much joy in the music--
Jim: There is.
Liz: --the joy of anticipation.
Jim: I think the Lord, I mean, He loves worship and when you worship with your heart, I think it really does, He smiles with that. Let's talk about the book, (The) Women of Christmas. It's Elizabeth; it's Anna and Mary.
Jim: How did you come to the realization that these are women of Christmas?
Liz: Right, well, you know, obviously, Mary seems to be the woman of Christmas.
Liz: That would be rightly so, but when you look into Luke, you realize, wait a minute. There's another woman; before we really meet Mary, we meet Elizabeth. Of course, that's my name, so I've always been kind of partial to that, but her story is so amazing.
And then you put it next to Mary's and you see the things that are the same and the things that are very different, how God would use two entirely different women in His plan. Then you come along and here's Anna. These three women are three different generations. Mary would've been 12 to 12½. It is hard to get your head around that.
John: It is, yeah.
Liz: But young women were betrothed as soon as they were able to have children, so she was 12 to 12½-years-old, so young. And then Elizabeth's age is not given, but she is old in years. You know, that's a lovely phrase, to be "old in years."
Jim: I'm feelin' like that. (Laughter)
Liz: Me, too; me, too. Past childbearing, past her fertile years and so, somewhere, she could be 40 or 50 or 60. We're really not told.
Then with Anna you get a very specific age, 84. I love that. So you have three different generations, three very different kinds of women and yet, they're all sewn into the story of the coming of Jesus. And it's just like God to do that, to say, "He has come for everyone."
Jim: You know, Liz, the other aspect of the book that was really intriguing and right is the story behind the story. So often we read Scripture kind of in a sterile environment—
Jim: --expecting these people to do everything correctly. They heard God when God spoke. They didn't mess up in that relationship. But what you're bringing out in the book is, Mary is a 12, 12½-year-old unmarried—
Liz: That's right.
Jim: --girl and what that environment probably was really like for her and Joseph.
Liz: Very difficult.
Jim: Very different. Talk about that, because I'd like to talk to my boys, who are you know, 15 and 13. I'd like to talk to them about that setting and not make it so sterile.
Jim: Does that make sense?
Liz: No, it's exactly right. We have to understand, in these small towns that they lived in, a young girl and of course, she hears from the angel. Gabriel shows up and says, "Tada." That's the LRV version." (Laughter)
John: Yeah, what exactly did the angel say?
Jim: The LRV. I love that.
Liz: LRV, Lizzy Revised Version. But you know, he says, you know, this wonderful news which she receives with such a purity of faith, so pure. "Be it done unto me, your maidservant." Incredible. And then she takes off for Elizabeth. That's exactly what I would do if I found out I was going to be pregnant, was get out of town.
So, she goes to see her cousin, Elizabeth and she's there about three months. When she comes back home, she's very pregnant. She's now three months pregnant. She would be showing, as it were. She's been apart from Joseph, so the question would've been of course, "Whose baby is this?"
And we often just think that she was welcomed back to town and everybody was thrilled, 'cause she was gonna have the baby Jesus. That is not what their perception would've been. Their perception would've been, "Oh, you had a visit from the Holy Spirit. Well (Laughing), happens every day."
Jim: Right, I mean …
Liz: You know, and it hadn't happened; He hadn't appeared in 400 years.
Jim: Well, and I think it would be in that character of unbelievable. Here's the—
Jim: --scared girl, tryin to make up a story—
Jim: --to protect—
Liz: Exactly, so and for poor Joseph, what is he gonna do with this? He was betrothed to this girl, as good as married. And here she comes. She's pregnant. He doesn't know if it's his; well, he knows it isn't his child. He's very sure of that.
John: That's a good way to put that.
John: I like that emphasis.
Liz: He knows it isn't his and he has to figure out what to do. Now so many points to Joseph, because he could've been harsh on her. Instead he is loving toward her and wants to quietly divorce her. Well, we have to understand that the other option was that he could've joined the community in stoning her, right?
Jim: Think of that, yeah.
Liz: It would've been, she would've been seen as an adulteress and so, she would've been stoned. That was the normal option. But because Joseph was such a good man and by the way, he never speaks in this part of the story. Isn't that something? We never hear his voice.
Mary talks a lot. Elizabeth talks a lot. Zachariah used to talk, then had his voice taken away. It's interesting; the men are very quiet. (Laughter)
John: Still and deep, perhaps.
Liz: Yeah, that's right.
Jim: The Lord knew that we would've put our foot in our mouths or something.
Liz: Oh, I do think it's kinda wonderful that the women are highlighted throughout the story of the birth of Jesus. They are definitely front and center to the story.
Jim: Well, let's come back to Mary in just a while, but let's go to Elizabeth. You talk about the generational aspects of it, so we got the picture of Mary, this 12, 12½-year-old girl, who's pregnant but not married—
Liz: And poor and uneducated.
Jim: --and poor and uneducated. Then you have Elizabeth. Talk about Elizabeth.
Liz: Well, she was neither poor nor uneducated. She was the wife of a priest and grew up in a priestly home, so she would've been of a higher socioeconomic level. And it says in the Bible, both she and Zachariah were righteous in the sight of God, observing rather all the Lord's demands. In other words, this was that couple at church that just does everything right, that everybody looks up to.
Jim: They sparkle.
Liz: They sparkle, well-said, but this is one of those big biblical "but's," they were childless and they were older. And anytime I teach on this, you can see in the audience the women whose hearts sink, because they've been down this road.
Jim: You can see it in their faces.
Liz: Absolutely, that just that they understand better than any of the rest of us what that disappointment month by month by month, that disappointment is like. And here are these two good people doing as it were, everything right before the Lord and how often do we get in a situation where it's like, "Lord, I'm doing everything right. Why can You not answer this prayer?"
And of course, God knows the rest of the story. He knows what's coming for Elizabeth, but it's a timing thing. If her baby, who will, of course, be John the Baptist, but she doesn't know that, you know, I just thought, she doesn't give birth to him and say, "Oh, look, John the Baptist!"
Liz: (Laughing) We know—
Liz: --and God knew and the timing had to be perfect for John to lead the way for the baby Jesus. Elizabeth couldn't have had that son when she was 20. It had to come now and it had to come miraculously. I love that part of it, that this baby was not any work of, as it were, Elizabeth and Zachariah. It was God's kindness to them and God's blessing.
Jim: Well, it reminds us, too, that God's timing is perfect.
John: Yeah, it doesn't always feel that way, of course.
Liz: Oh, it sure doesn't, no.
John: Liz Curtis Higgs is on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Liz, right there, this is a season that is full of disappointment. You just expressed a little bit of that when you speak, you see it on the women's faces and hearts about being childless. This is a tough season for—
John: --a lot of folks, because they're doing everything right. What encouragement can they find?
Liz: Well, this is why I love to study the Word of God and the people in the Word of God. Not a one of them is perfect. The only perfect person in the Bible is Jesus. So all of them have flaws and challenges and I think they give us hope. And this story is a great one to look to for hope, because God is ever at work and who knows what He has for us next. What we do know for a fact is that it's good.
John: But it didn't feel good for Elizabeth—
John: --and her husband, as month after month—
John: --turned into year after year.
Liz: Right, right.
John: At what point do you just say, "I guess it's not gonna happen?"
Liz: Well, I think in some ways and this is just a Lizzy opinion, it's good to come to a place of acceptance that it might never happen. I'm thinking only in my own life when I didn't marry for many, many years and I got past 30 and there was still no man in my life. And I finally said, "I will be happiest if I come to the acceptance of, this is what God has for me is singleness."
And so, I jumped into singleness with both feet, loved it, found every good thing about it and then I met Bill. (Laughter) I know that the Lord wanted me to come to that place of peace, that He had this and if what He had for me was singleness, there was a good reason for it.
So, I would say and this is a hard word, that if right now the desire of your heart is to have a child, that you've gotta trust God's timing in this and His big plan for you. We just don't know what's next, but we know that He's got it and it's good.
Jim: That can be tough often, because of, you know, again you're wanting that anticipation.
Liz: Of course.
Jim: And you sense that God will answer your prayers, but like Elizabeth, as you tie it to the story, she went years—
Liz: She did.
Jim: --sitting in her synagogue, thinking, "Lord, why aren't You blessing me?" I'm sure in the quietness of her heart.
Liz: Of course.
Jim: And there are women that are experiencing that right now at Christmas, hopin' for that little package. I remember Jean on our second child, Troy (Chuckling), which he came two years after Trent and she wrapped a box and I opened the box after coming home and there was Trent's little baby cap from the hospital in there. And I'm so dense, I'm looking at it (Laughter) going, "Why would you wrap up Trent's baby cap?" (Laughing) And she looked at me like—
Liz: Come on.
Jim: --duh! And I went, "Are you serious?" And but yeah—
Liz: I love it.
Jim: --it was one of my less sparkling moments (Laughter), let me tell you. But I mean, there is that reality. But I like what you said in terms of peace, that you need to seek God's peace in that. That's what this season is all about, isn't it—
Jim: --Liz? In our eternal heart, in our expectation heart, what we want in this life, resting in Jesus and in your relationship with Christ is the only true thing that we can trust in.
Liz: For sure. This season is the best of times and the worst of times. For people who have a happy family that they're with and the anticipation of Christmas Day and lots of gifts and lots of food, well, it's just grand. But many, many, many of your listeners are not gonna be in that place right now.
Liz: They are not gonna have the money to do Christmas the way they'd like to. They are estranged from family or physically apart from family or there is no family. And so, this is why we remember what Christmas is all about.
Liz: --It's about Jesus.
Jim: --it is and let's take it forward now and talking again about Mary, because I want to go a bit further, that connection to today's teen girl. I mean, you draw that conclusion in the book.
Jim: You talk about how Mary is that type of teen girl that—
Liz: She is.
Jim: --must have been struggling. Of course, she had the Word of the Lord in her heart. She heard the angel and that made all the difference, but talk to that teen girl who is maybe pregnant—
Liz: Wow, yes.
Jim: --is not married today.
Liz: Right, okay, first this really important word. Every baby is a gift from God. None of them are unexpected. None of them are a surprise to Him. So, while we would call it perhaps, an unexpected pregnancy, God calls it a gift, just like that baby cap in your box.
Liz: Maybe the conception and the way all of that came down is not how society or even we would wish it to happen, but now here's coming this baby. Here's coming new life and it's a chance for us to be changed, just as that child is gonna change the world they're born into.
And so, it is hard and Mary was the worst-case scenario in the sense that she was very young. She was poor and while she heard from the angel, nobody else in town did. And so, she knew in her heart that she was right, but everybody else would have seen her as wrong.
So, where would she have turned? Only to the Lord; only the Lord would've understood completely what was going on. What a child, really, child of faith she was, to throw herself at His feet and say, "Well, Lord, nobody understands, but You understand."
Jim: That is so good and so true and what a great opportunity for the church to be present in that girl's life—
Jim: --to talk about the special gift and not to resent—
Jim: --that baby inside of her.
Jim: If you're in that spot today and you happen to be listening to "Focus on the Family," call us, because we'd like to talk to you about next steps and good steps and steps that you won't regret for the rest of your life, steps that bring life into this world. Our counselors are here and we hope if you're in that position, you will call us and let us help you.
Liz, let's talk about Anna, because—
Liz: Oh, I love Anna.
Jim: --you know, she's the 84—
Liz: She makes me feel young for starters! (Laughter)
Jim: --she's the 84-year-old woman, the woman full of wisdom in this story.
Jim: A lot of people probably are thinking, who's Anna, because—
Jim: --we don't catch her so clearly.
Jim: Who is Anna?
Liz: Right, once the baby Jesus is born, it's like, yea! And now New Year's, right? (Laughter) But the truth is, Anna was a woman who and I just love this, she lived in the Temple and she worshiped God day and night. She was widowed at a very young age, that's another kind of pain this time of the year, by the way.
Jim and John: Yeah.
Jim: First Christmas.
Liz: --first Christmas of loss is a very difficult time. But so that's Anna. She had lost her husband as a younger woman, probably in her 20's. And now all these years she has served the Lord. She fasts regularly. She prays all the time. Oh, my goodness. Well, she spies Simeon holding the baby Jesus and she knows that she knows. And she runs over. She's so excited. She tells all that are awaiting His appearing, that the Messiah has come.
So, it's just thrilling to me to see this older woman, still on fire for the Lord, excited to tell people Jesus is here. She is a real role model for any of us who are past the childbearing point and you know, even past of Elizabeth's age, but thinking, what do You have for me, God? Is there more for me to do for You? I'm comin' into my 60's, my 70's, my 80's. What can I do? Well, there's Anna, our incredible role model who's still goin' for it for God at 84. I love her.
Jim: That's a good point though, that as we get older, we can lose that excitement—
Jim: --about our faith and you're right. Anna's a wonderful example for us to stay in tune with God's heart.
Liz: Anticipate Him.
Jim: Anticipate Him.
Liz: She was anticipating the arrival of the Messiah all those years.
John: And it might be that God was rewarding her faithfulness, because she, day and night, she showed up to worship God, not just officially, but in her heart, as well.
John: And so, that's a good encouragement, I think, to all of us just be there faithfully, expectantly that God can still do something here.
Liz: Yeah, absolutely. She's a very special [woman] and I love to find the women that we know a little bit less about. Truly we just think of Mary when you think of Christmas. But Elizabeth and Anna on either side of the story in Luke, give us the bigger picture that God speaks to each generation. He uses people of each generation for His good purpose.
Jim: And it's so clear the way that you've drawn it into your book. Liz, let me ask you about this connection between Mary and Elizabeth and when they meet and it's recorded that John the Baptist in Elizabeth's belly leaps. I mean, she can feel—
Jim: --this expression within the baby in her womb.
Liz: Oh, that scene, oh.
Jim: When you think about that and you have doubts about, you know, maybe your pro-life position, here the Scripture is very clear, talking about the worth of that baby in the womb, with what John the Baptist is expressing. Talk about that moment and what's happening there.
Liz: Well, this is such an incredible scene and here comes our Mary, who has hoped … been told that she will be pregnant. We don't know by the way exactly when that conception occurs, whether it was the moment that Gabriel was there, on her trip to see her cousin. She traveled a long way, between 75 and 100 miles by foot.
Liz: Probably, yes. We're thinking somewhere along the line and by the time she gets there, 10, 11, 12 days into this, she's definitely pregnant, because Elizabeth, "Oh, blessed are you among women. Why would you come see me?" And this is her cousin and "cousin" in the Bible means vaguely relatives.
Liz: You know, anybody that was close to you at all. You know, your cousin of your cousin of your cousin was still your cousin.
But the baby leaps in her womb and Elizabeth and of course, John the Baptist are filled with the Holy Spirit. So, this is happening with this child in utero and that's how Elizabeth knows, "Oh, she's it. She's pregnant." And this is what I love; this is when Mary would've found out that she was pregnant.
Liz: Think about it.
Jim: That was her pregnancy…
Liz: Twelve and a half year old girl, how would she know?
John: This was the confirmation.
Liz: This is it. It happened just as God said. It happened, but Mary hasn't even had a chance to tell her yet. That's what's so amazing. Elizabeth has this revelation from God. When the Holy Spirit fills her, He also tells her, here's the deal. And these words just pour out of Elizabeth's mouth, I'm sure without any awareness on her part or any pre-thought. For that matter, we … I would guess she didn't even know Mary was coming. How would she know?
Liz: Mary just up and decided to go see her, so it was a surprise to find her at her door and a bigger surprise to find out she was A, pregnant and B, with Jesus. Then Elizabeth does a beautiful thing. The mother of my Lord, she calls her, the mother of my Lord. So, this is Elizabeth's moment of making a profession of faith right there.
Jim: Yeah, that's—
Jim: --a beautiful way to think of Christmas—
Jim: --you know, the coming of Jesus. Let me ask you about those years we know nothing about, just speculation, I understand that. There's not much there in Scripture, but shortly thereafter both Jesus and John the Baptist would be born and diapers are being taken care of and you know, what, as a mom, yourself, what's your heart about those growing-up years? You had these experiences. Think of Mary. I mean, being told by the angel of God, this is who the child is inside of you. And yet, you know, all the normal stuff of motherhood is right around the corner. I'm sure it was hectic. Mary wasn't experienced as a mom—
Jim: --nursing the baby, feeling tired, all the things that would—
Jim: --be normal, how do you think she felt as a mom?
Liz: Well, I think she had the extra burden of wondering what her neighbors thought of her, because—
Liz: --always, that would always have been there. This uncertainty about who the father of this child was and so that, I think she might've felt a bit more isolated than some young moms might, in a community like that, where usually everybody gathered around to raise a child.
We aren't told those years and I always say, if the Lord tells us, we need to know. And if He doesn't tell us, it's not important to the story and so, I tend not to speculate about what happened, except to say, she was a mother who stayed very involved in her young son's life, because she's still there later and she's still there later. This is the same Mary who in a manger had her son, saw Him nailed to a cross, the same Mary.
And still would've been quite a young woman when that happened to say goodbye to her Son. So, about 45-years-old. So, she's quite something to me.
Jim: You know, the thought I have as the dad of two boys, they're not Jesus and James by no stretch. (Laughter) But I'm thinking also of Mary being able to whisper into James' ear. "It's okay, honey, remember He's the Son of God." (Laughter) Could you imagine that, that your brother is the Son of God? I mean, think about it.
John: It's some—
Jim: I mean, we rarely—
John: --just hard to fathom.
Jim: --do, you know. But James, he probably did everything pretty well and James was probably, wow, okay, how do I compete with this brother?
Liz: Yes, right. That would be a tough older brother (Laughter), that's for sure.
Jim: That would be (Laughing). When you, Liz, when we look at Christmas, we're coming in now and we think of the big picture here. I'd like to hear from you writing (The)Women of Christmas, what's the core message? What would you want to say to that woman who's struggling, maybe as a teenage girl who's pregnant? Maybe as Elizabeth, who hasn't yet seen her womb come alive or maybe just has. Or Anna, the 84-year-old, who's saying, "Lord, my husband's gone; what do I do with the rest of my life? What do You want me to do? Communicate directly with them. What would you want them to remember about this special time of the year?
Liz: Jesus came for you. He came for you, wherever you are in your life. He came for you. God, all through history, prepared for this day, knowing what Jesus' coming would do for every one of us. And what He brings is hope. What He brings is a joy that's rooted not in circumstance, but in a relationship with Him.
And I love that He speaks to every heart, the 12-year-old girl, the 16, the 20, the 30, the 50, the 80. He has a message of love, acceptance and salvation. Jesus came for you.
Jim: That is so well-said and I would think the core message there, don't let the busyness of Christmas—
Liz: Oh, yes, that's right.
Jim: --obscure your ability to see the true meaning of Christmas—
Jim: --which is far bigger than that package.
Liz: Far bigger, yeah, because you know, the day after Christmas can sometimes be a bit of a letdown, because of all the buildup tends to be around the gifts and the food and the fellowship of people. And so, I think if you can put the Christ at the center of your Christmas now beginning today as we are moving into Advent and carry that as the heart of your Christmas, that means on December 26th, you're still full of joy.
Jim: Absolutely and hopefully, throughout the whole year.
Liz: That's right.
Jim: Liz Curtis Higgs, author of the book, The Women of Christmas, thanks for lightening our Christmas—
Liz: Oh (Laughing)
Jim: --ideas and thoughts as we start this advent season.
Liz: It's a blessing.
John: Well, we've heard so very much from Liz Curtis Higgs today about the Christmas story that we all know so well, Jim. I mean, we're so familiar with it and we're so busy. But I trust that you found this time to be inspirational and that you'll get a copy of Liz's book, The Women of Christmas. The subtitle is Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary and Anna. We've got that here at Focus on the Family and we'll send a copy to you today when you make a generous donation to the ministry and partner with us in encouraging people where they're at.
Jim: John, let's end with this thought, as well, because we've talked about a lot of joyful things today, as well as a lot of heavy things. And we don't know exactly where you're at. As Liz mentioned earlier, this can be a very heavy time of year for people because all the wounds seem to come up and the emotions are there. And if you're in that place where you need someone to talk to, call us and just let us know what's happening in your life. Let us pray with you and perhaps even put a tool in your hand that can help you. That really is what Christmas is about, is being there for others as Jesus was there for us.
John: Our number is 800- A -FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or online you'll find a variety of helps, resources and a counselor referral tool we have, if you'd like to talk to a counselor in your area. That's at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. We'll start our annual tradition here of presenting some of the best programs from the past 12 months for you. Our Best of the Best series begins tomorrow, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Liz Curtis HiggsView Bio
Liz Curtis Higgs is a popular public speaker who has addressed audiences around the world. She is also a best-selling author of more than two dozen books; her nonfiction books include the Bad Girls of the Bible series, and she has written several contemporary and historical novels. Liz and her husband, Bill, reside in Kentucky and have two grown children.