Once upon a time, when Herod was the king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zack who belonged to the Order of God’s Children. He lived with his wife, Liz, who was descended from Aaron. Both of them lived godly lives, and had clean records so far as the religious rules and regulations were concerned. But they were childless. Liz had been unable to get pregnant, and by now they were both very old.
After setting the reader up to expect a well-documented history, the story opens with lines reminiscent of a fairy tale. In fact, the story of the virtuous aging childless couple has been told many times before. It’s in the Bible. It’s Abraham and Sarah’s story (Genesis 15:1-3). It’s Ramathaim and Hannah’s story (1 Samuel 1:1-2). But it goes beyond the Bible.
It is told as far away from the Bible’s ancient near east as the native Hawaiians in the story of Lau-Ka-Ieie, complete with the promised child delivered to transform sadness into joy. (A beautiful modern re-telling of it is here.)
Why? Because childlessness is a common human condition. And so is the universal human hope that a future is possible, even when all efforts at playing by the rules have failed and it’s getting near the end.
As such children born to childless couples are signs of that hope fulfilled. They come as gifts from God. They are cherished. Great things are expected of them.
But from there it’s only a small step to realize that really every child is a child of promise. Every child is born of a childless couple. Every child is, according to the name of Zack’s priestly order, God’s child.
So, when every child is cherished as the divine sign of a promise fulfilled, and when every child is expected to achieve great things, the promised future really is born into the world.
Even when all the other attempts have failed.
Even when it’s getting near the end.