Sunday, December 20, 2020

Hope in the Age of Darkness: Gifts of the Incarnation

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Today in worship, we will be sharing the proclamation made by Mary, the mother of Jesus, while she is visiting Elizabeth, who has also conceived by after a pronouncement from an angel. As we discussed the story of Mary in our worship planning, George reminded me that Mary’s proclamation, known as the Magnificat (found in Luke 1:46-55), is a reflection of this Song of Hannah that we find in 1 Samuel following the birth of the child Samuel that came to her also as a gift of God.

It brought me back to reflect more deeply on Hannah and where her poetic utterance takes us. The thing that is most striking is that Hannah, like Mary, is in a position of powerlessness. Hannah is one of two wives married to Elkanah, and while she was favored by her husband, the other wife, Peninnah, had given birth to all of his children. Hannah was barren, and since the ability to bear children was highly prized, Peninnah would hold this over Hannah. Hannah was crushed by the constant vexation that came from the one referred to as “her rival.”

A more thorough reading of the first chapter of 1 Samuel gives us the picture of what is going on … how Hannah prayed at the place of worship known as Shiloh (which was the central place of Hebrew worship prior to Jerusalem) … how Eli thought she was drunk until she explained her weeping … and how Eli had promised that her prayers would be heard by God. Then Hannah is finally granted the gift of a child, whom she promptly dedicates completely to God.

She starts without a child and then, upon receiving the gift of the child, promptly gave him back to God. Samuel was raised in the house of the Lord by Eli, the priest who had blessed her when she was in distress. It would be comparable to a poor person winning the lottery and then giving it all to charity only to end up as poor as before.

There is something important happening here. It is the backwards nature of our faith. The riches we seek come more through our giving than in our getting. If I am not mistaken, this is a theme in this season. We talk about it as a season of giving. Yes, the commercialism and rampant consumerism turn giving into getting, but deep within the human soul is this realization that there is something fundamentally enriching by giving ourselves away.

And it is a gift made real for us by the poorest among us. As Jesus taught us that we could see him in the face of the poor (see Matthew 25), we learn that it is the poor who have the greatest capacity for the pouring out of self. We learn from people in the margins the true nature of self-giving.

So as we hear the story of Hannah and compare it today with the story of Mary, keep in mind that, when we live in the kingdom of God, the least are the greatest, and the greatest are the least. The poor are made rich, and the rich find themselves poor. The powerless are the strongest, and the powerful find themselves weak.

Finally, the pathway to the fullness of the Lord begins with the capacity to pour ourselves out entirely for God and the children of God. This, in my view, is the spirit of Christmas … it is the way of discipleship.

Lord, we come seeking to learn about your fullness by learning how to pour ourselves out entirely to you. Amen.

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