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1 Samuel 1:19-28 Translation by Wilda Gafney – A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church
Hannah and Elkanah rose early in the morning and bowed down and worshiped before the HOLY ONE OF OLD; then they turned back and went to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the HOLY ONE remembered her. And it was with the turning of the days that Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She called his name Samuel (God hears), for she said, “From the GOD WHO HEARS have I asked him.”
Now the man Elkanah went up along with his whole household to offer to the HOLY ONE the yearly sacrifice, on account of a vow. Yet Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “[Not] until the child is weaned, then will I bring him, that he may be seen in the presence of the MOST HIGH and remain there perpetually. I will present him as a nazirite in perpetuity, for all the days of his life.” Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what is best in your eyes, stay until you have weaned him. May the FAITHFUL GOD establish the words of your mouth.” So, the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. And she took him up with her after she had weaned him along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a jug of wine. Hannah brought him to the house of the EVER-LIVING GOD at Shiloh and the boy was just a little boy. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the boy to Eli. And Hannah said, “My lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman, the one who was standing beside you in this [place] to pray to the GOD WHO HEARS. For this boy I prayed; and the FAITHFUL GOD gave me my asking, what I asked from God. Therefore have I bequeathed him to the GRACIOUS GOD; all his days will he be a bequest to the GOD WHOSE NAME IS HOLY.
So, she left him there and she bowed down and worshipped the FAITHFUL GOD.
1 Samuel 1:19-28 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
21 The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” 23 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish your word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. 24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh, and the child was young. 25 Then they slaughtered the bull and brought the child to Eli. 26 And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence praying to the Lord. 27 For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. 28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” And they worshiped the Lord there.
Matthew 1:18-25 Translation by Wilda Gafney – A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church
Now this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah happened: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to have a child in her womb from the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a just man and unwilling to shame her, he wanted to divorce her secretly. But when he deliberated this, suddenly an angel of the Most High God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for in her is conceived a child from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this happened to fulfill what had been spoken by the Most High God through the prophet:
“Look now! The virgin shall conceive a child in her womb and give birth to a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel,”
which translated means, “God is with us.” When Joseph got up from sleep, he did as the angel of the Most High God commanded him. He took her as his wife, yet did not know her sexually until her birthing of a son and named him Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.
In our Christian scriptures these past four weeks of Advent, the central figure is Mary. The first Sunday, scripture tells us that an Angel of the Lord speaks to her and Mary consents to being the mother of a child destined to lead his people. On our second Sunday of Advent, Mary and Elizabeth are empowered to help and support one another in their pregnancies. The third Sunday, Mary sings the Magnificat, which echoes Hannah’s praises to the Lord generations earlier. This week Joseph is visited in a dream and told to honor his vows with Mary. Joseph honors God by honoring Mary. Later today, at our 4:00 Christmas Eve service we will celebrate the much-heralded birth of this child to a young, Jewish, peasant woman.
Again, this week, we are brought close to the stories of our ancestors upon which our Jesus, Mary, and Joseph narrative were modeled.
In order to understand our scripture from the Gospel of Matthew we need to have context from the much older Book of Isaiah, chapter 7, verse 14. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman (virgin) is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (God with us).”
What is the context of this scripture? Isaiah is speaking to Ahaz who is reluctant to go into a battle he does not believe that he can win. Who shall prevail? Isaiah 7:14 was to be the sign for Ahaz to believe that God was with his people. It is not crystal clear who the scripture is speaking of, but my Oxford Bible suggests that it is the mother of Hezekiah, meaning Yahweh strengthens, who grew up to be the King of Judah, in the Southern Kingdom of Israel.
Early followers of Jesus were well versed in Judaism. As they tried to make sense of his life and death, they reached back to their familiar scriptures, now seeing and re-interpreting them through a new lens. In Isaiah 7:14 the Hebrew word “almah” is translated as young woman, but could also mean virgin. When the Isaiah scripture was translated from Hebrew to Greek in what is commonly known as the Septuagint (LXX, for the 70 or 72 translators) the translators chose the word “parthenos” which unambiguously means virgin.
If Mary, a young woman betrothed to Joseph in marriage, is found to be pregnant before they were married it is a scandal. If Mary, a virgin young woman betrothed to Joseph in marriage is found to be pregnant before they were married it is a miracle.
I believe Jesus was born into this world and walked this earth performing great and miraculous deeds. I can believe that he was born to a young woman that was living on the margins of society and who raised up this child, who miracle of miracles, changed the world that he lived in and changed the world that we live in.
Matthew’s gospel tells us that Mary became pregnant through the Holy Spirit… this child was to be special… more special than any other… this child is God incarnate…
Later, as Christianity was being birthed from the growing pains of the followers of the Way (of Jesus) Isaiah 7:14 came to be understood as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth to bring “God with us.”
What these early followers knew was that this person Jesus was like no other. He taught about God in a new way. He saw people for who they were, not where they lived or what they wore or how much money they had or their position in the world or any other typical measures of wealth and status and power.
He saw the downtrodden, the sick, the under-class because he was one of them. Yet he saw himself and them for who they were to God – inherently valued and loved for the inner gifts bestowed on them by God. He committed his life to teaching this to any that would listen – and to some that would not.
After Jesus shook up the Middle East with his teachings, and a great many people were convinced that he was the One to save them from their oppressors, he was heartbreakingly crucified as a common criminal. But of course, his story did not end there. He would not die from their memories or their consciousness. He continued to live in the hearts of those who knew him, or knew of him.
As the oral tradition was remembered to the next generations, Jesus’ following grew. Part of the growing pains involved his followers moving from Judaism to a new Way that felt true to his teachings. It caused schisms that divided families and communities. Part of the growing pains involved re-remembering Jesus and his teachings and implanting, for instance, birth narratives to honor him in the traditions of their Jewish history. They could not help but see Jesus in their old familiar Hebrew texts, seeing in the texts prophecies that Jesus was pre-ordained to change the world.
In our Christian scripture from the Gospel of Matthew the old familiar patterning of the Hebrew scriptures takes on a new twist. Or an old twist. Our Christian ancestors reached back to the mythological stories and explanations of the world and patterned Jesus’ birth narrative accordingly, being sure that it was more wondrous than all other narratives that existed.
The sacred mythology that evolved through the religious community is that Mary did not get pregnant scandalously, but miraculously. Jesus and his parents were lifted out of their humble beginnings and he was elevated to a divine being, of a divine conception and birth.
The scandal was not, is not that Mary was pregnant before her wedding day. The scandal is how society treated her, how society still treats young women in similar circumstances.
This world could benefit from fewer scandals and more miracles. How we frame situations has much to do with how we and others respond.
Who needs more love, more compassion, more understanding than a young, unwed, terrified mother-to-be? Or a nervous soon-to-be dad? How many still regard that as a scandal? What will it take to view the miracle within? What will it take to set aside judgment and offer love and acceptance to those in need?
Perhaps we might strive to view life through the eyes of Hannah. Her words that bookend the 1 Samuel passage that Myrna read for us this morning are, “I have asked him of the Lord.” and “I have lent him to the Lord.” when speaking of her son Samuel.
Hannah was a righteous woman. She was living close to God, living in right relationship with God, and acknowledged that we are all gifts from God and that our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, are on loan to us.
When we see all situations through the eyes of God… when we treat all people with love and respect… we can change the world. But we cannot do it alone. Matthew’s gospel teaches that something radically different is about to happen, and that the change coming into the world is of God’s doing, not ours. We can work with God, as Hannah did… as Jesus does…
It is imperative that we do the work with God, letting God work through us.
Jesus, the light of the world, was born of human flesh to bring us closer to God, and to bring us closer to one another. May the light of Christ shine through us, this day, and every day.
Rev. TJ Mack – December 24, 2023