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12/17/23 Sermon

View today's sermon on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_8sb7EeOKk.




Judges 13:2-7 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink or to eat anything unclean, for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name, but he said to me, ‘You shall conceive and bear a son. So then, drink no wine or strong drink and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.’ ”

Luke 1:46-56 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,48 for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant.    Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed,49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name;50 indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly;53 he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.54 He has come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.


Judges 13:2-7 – Translation by Wilda Gafney – A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church

Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, and his name was Manoah. His wife was barren; she had never given birth. And the messenger of the HOLY ONE appeared to the woman and said to her, “Look now, you are barren, having never given birth, you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now please be on guard not to drink wine or strong drink, and you shall not eat anything unclean. For look! You shall yet conceive and give birth to a son. No razor shall be upon his head, for a nazirite to God shall the boy be from the womb. And he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” Then the woman came and spoke to her husband saying, “Someone from God came to me, and their appearance was like that of a messenger of God, incredibly awesome; I did not ask the messenger from where they came, and their name they did not tell me. Yet they said to me, ‘You shall conceive and give birth to a son; do not drink wine or strong drink, and do not eat anything taboo, for a nazirite the boy shall be from the womb unto the day of his death.’”


Luke 1:46-56

“My soul magnifies the Holy One, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s own womb-slave. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name. God’s loving-kindness is for those who fear God from generation to generation. God has shown the strength of God’s own arm; God has scattered the arrogant in the intent of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. God has helped God’s own child, Israel, a memorial to God’s mercy, just as God said to our mothers and fathers, to [Hagar and] and Sarah and Abraham, to their descendants forever.”

And Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then she returned to her home.

I am the girl whom no one’s heard of,

no one remembers, no one cares,

no one even knows my name.

Could it be that I never lived?

Yet that far-off day seems more real

now than many other.


Early spring light, soft and pink on the shutters,

was suddenly shadowed by the imposing form

of a stranger tall and serious.

“Greetings—the Lord is with you.”

And seeing I trembled,

“Do not be afraid.

I have a message for you,

you will bear a son and he will inherit

his father David’s throne.”


I stood still as a statue,

while my thoughts

whirled and jangled.

I was not married.

I was too young. It must be a joke?

Who was this man anyway?

Was I really hearing this word,

or imagining it?

He stood waiting

and I cried out, “Oh, no,

I’m not the one, don’t ask me!

there must be someone else.”

The light in his eyes dimmed

not of vision surely,

but of deep sorrow.


You know, don’t you, where he went?

And this is why no one knows my name.


No One Knows My Name – Isobel de Gruchy – South Africa – Gifts in Open Hands, pp.69-70

Again this week, as we prepare our hearts for Christmas we have a familiar theme. Our scriptures follow the same trajectory of Hagar and Sarah, Elizabeth and Mary in receiving word of divine pregnancies and births. An Angel of the Lord, a Messenger of God, comes to bring news of  an unexpected or miraculous birth, and instructions for raising the boy child who is to deliver his people out of captivity. 


The child foretold in our text from the Book of Judges we later learn was named Samson, which is derived from the word for “sun.” Manoah’s wife, who remains unnamed for all eternity, took nazirite vows at the behest of the Messenger of God so that her son would be born a nazirite. 


What is a nazirite? According to my Oxford Companion to the Bible, a nazirite is, “An individual who was dedicated (Hebrew nazir) to special sacred service through a vow made by the individual or by a parent. The dedication could last for a lifetime or for only a limited period.” The vows, as we learn in the scripture, include imbibing no alcoholic beverages, eating only food that is deemed clean, and remaining pure in body and spirit by avoiding contact with corpses. In addition they are not to shave their heads, lest they lose their powerful connection with God.


We learn that Samson’s path was determined for him before he was born. Upon learning more about him throughout the Book of Judges, I  wondered if his heart was not in being a nazirite. His path was chosen for him, he did not choose it. Would it have been better for him to walk away, as imagined by our contemporary author of “No One Knows My Name”? 

Like other powerful leaders in our Biblical history, the exploits of Samson were  grounded in folktales and Greek mythology. Samson fell short of living up to his vows, violating them frequently. 


Why do we learn of Samson this week? We are learning about him because of his mother and her annunciation story, his birth narrative was one of the precursors to the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary. 


Samson’s deeds were “great” only in death tolls. Samson the nazirite did many “great” deeds, of which all or most of them were vengeful… he could be the poster child for how not to live a good life, how not to live a Godly life. 


When society places value on war and conquest and killing they can project those values onto their God and find themselves worshiping a vengeful and vindictive God. Jesus flipped the script from one of violence and hatred to one of peace and love. 


Samson’s mother and Jesus’ mother Mary birthed two very different leaders with two very different outcomes. One a failure by any estimation other than high death tolls; the other a success story even though he was killed as a common criminal. Religious people are not always Godly people… and Godly people are not always recognized or respected by religious people. 


Let’s explore more about the strength and spirituality of these two remarkable women.

The woman in Judges was clearly a person that knew God and revered God. She immediately recognized the Messenger as God or of God. She was open to the Spirit of God, and it is she who is visited by the Messenger, first unbidden, and then again when her husband prays for a second visit for himself. Again, the Angel of God came to the woman and not to her husband, although the woman graciously went to get him so that he too could hear what the Messenger had to say. Her husband is portrayed depending on how you interpret the text, as an ignoramus, not understanding what the Messenger required of his wife, or a controlling and misogynistic husband, not wanting to give credence to anything his wife has told him, needing to hear it directly from another man or from God or God’s Messenger. Refreshingly, the Messenger of God gives him a bit of a scolding telling Manoah to let his wife follow God’s word for her. 


We of course recognize some elements of this narrative in the ways that we have mythologized Jesus’ birth to Mary and Joseph. The followers of Jesus, steeped in the Jewish faith, reached back to their sacred texts to lay the foundation for the good news of the One they saw as their savior. 


Nazirite in name only, Samson fell away from God and fought Philistines not for the freedom of his people but out of personal vindictiveness. 


Jesus, without pretense of nazirite vows lived a common life, uncommonly. Jesus drank wine, touched corpses, challenged food purity laws. Yet Jesus lived his life as One with God and strove to encourage all others to do the same.


Mary sang… My soul magnifies the Lord… isn’t that what we all want to do? Magnify God through our thoughts and actions? The way we are taught that she did? The way we are taught that Jesus did? We want to live our best lives… to use our God given gifts to enhance our lives and the lives of others… to make this world a better place for not only ourselves but for future generations… 


How do our souls magnify the Lord? When have we said ‘yes’ when the Angel of God approached us? And when have we said ‘no’? How will we respond in the future?

God waits for us, patiently or impatiently, but God waits and hopes for the day that we recognize and then act on where our most fervent desires meet the world’s most pressing needs. Let us pray that we answer the Messenger of God with, “Here am I… let it be with me according to your word.” Joy of joys when that day arrives.  


Amen

Rev. TJ Mack – December 17, 2023


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