December 22, 2016
by Nancy Shirley
Creighton University's College of Nursing
click here for photo and information about the writer

Thursday of the Fourth Week in Advent
Lectionary: 198

1 Samuel 1:24-28
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd
Luke 1:46-56

Today's Advent Prayer

Praying Advent Home Page

Praying for Peace with Elizabeth and Mary

How Holy Can My Family Be?

As we approach the end of Advent and enter the Christmas season, our readings today tell of the unfathomable faith of two remarkable women. I am in awe of the faith of these women and the love for their children.

In our first reading, we find Hannah, barren for much of her life, living in shame for being unworthy of God’s blessing of motherhood, and taunted by her husband’s other wife who was fruitful.  Hannah’s faith, however, was unshakeable.  She continued to pray with fervor for the blessing of a child – Eli saw her praying with much passion and said that her prayers would be answered.  Hannah had made a promise to God in her prayers that if her prayers were answered and she had a child, she would give that child back to God!  Totally amazing in my mind to pray so diligently for a child and then be willing to relinquish him. In our section from Samuel, we read of her approaching the temple in Shiloh with her husband to give sacrifices.  And, indeed, she did make a sacrifice, giving Samuel to Eli so that Samuel would be dedicated to the Lord and trained as a priest.  I try to imagine walking next to Hannah as she enters the temple, what is she thinking?  Her hands are trembling as she lays them gently on Samuel’s shoulder.  This is her only child, the one she prayed for over many years.  This is the child she held so close and caressed his face, how is she able to do this?  How is she able to be so brave, so faithful, so unwavering in promise?  She did it!  She gave him over to Eli.  She leaves the temple with a heavy heart but she holds her head high, she was worthy of God’s blessing and she kept her promise.  Hannah is the model of devotion and faith.  What we don’t see in this reading is that she is rewarded, her sacrifice was noted.  Hannah did go on to have more children that blessed her life richly but when she gave up Samuel (whose names means God hears), she had no idea if she would ever bear another child.

In the gospel, Luke shares the words of Mary.  If Hannah was the model of devotion and faith in the Old Testament, then Mary is Hannah, a hundred times over.  Mary, just a young woman, a child really, heeds the call of God.  She rejoices in her faith and her God, singing His praises.  She does not doubt about her situation – no concern about how she is going to explain this to her parents or to her betrothed, Joseph.  Mary basks in the blessing of the Lord, she shows gratitude for the great things He has done for her.   Of course, we know now that Mary was chosen for this honor from her conception.  We recently celebrated her Immaculate Conception – the only person ever to be born without sin.  Mary had no way of knowing that this was her role in life.  Yet, she never doubted the angel Gabriel.  She never questioned, why me?

Even as she was to experience great sorrows in her life, she never wavered, doubted, or questioned her faith and devotion.  Mary was truly the shining example of a Child of God – we are all children of God and try to live as such but Mary models that for us exquisitely.  I try to imagine what it must have been like for Mary, especially as she and Joseph trekked to Bethlehem.  A pregnant, unwed teenager traveling across the Mideast on a donkey close to her delivery date.  That is Faith with a capital “F.”  I can only imagine how frightened she was when she went into labor.  Yet given our reading today, I’m sure she approached with knowledge of God’s mercy and love.  Mary knew that God keeps His promise and would hold her in the palm of His hand and do great things for her.

In my musing about Mary’s reaction to all of this, I often think of the song, Mary Did You Know?  It seems to capture everything I wondered about as I imagined myself next to Mary on this journey and as she sat in the stable.  I’ve included a link to my favorite version of this song sung by Heidi Joy (from Omaha!!)
Mary Did You Know?

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