1 SAMUEL 2:1-10
Can you remember as a child sorting through the storybooks that Father Christmas had left, snuggling down in your bed and listening to those wonderful words "Once upon a time...."? Quite often it seems to me that the story concerned some poor downtrodden individual who seemed to have nothing at all going for them.
Then theres a chance meeting perhaps with a stranger - maybe a prince, maybe not - and all of a sudden their life is transformed, you can almost here the orchestra strings playing their hearts out towards a crescendo, and the story reaches its climax with those immortal words "And they all lived happily ever after"
Life, of course, isnt always like that. We probably all know someone who could fit the bill as downtrodden - someone for whom life at times just doesnt seem worth living, for whatever reason. Maybe at times weve felt that way ourselves when things havent been going right for us. Life doesnt always produce a Prince Charming or Fairy Godmother to make right that which is plainly wrong. Cinderella sometimes has to make do with a karaoke party, rather than the ball.
Well, our first reading could easily start "Once upon a time there was a young woman called Hannah....." She was certainly downtrodden because poor Hannah, who was married to a man called Elkanah, didnt seem to be able to have children, unlike his other wife Peninnah who seems to have had plenty. Now its widely held that mothers in Israel wanted sons in the hope of being an ancestress of the Messiah, and so Hannahs apparent inability was a source of much misery, as one might expect, and some rather nasty and uncalled for comments from Peninnah.
In the temple, Hannah pours out her troubles to her God, "O Lord Almighty," she pleads. "If you will only look upon your servants misery and remember me, and not forget your servant and give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life..."
What a promise to make. How desperate she is to conceive, and yet even in her anguish she knows that any child that comes will be as a result of her pleas, a gift from God.
Its not Prince Charming but Eli the Priest that notices her, and eventually blesses her saying "Go in peace and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him"
Of course she has a son, and what a son - none other than Samuel - and when hes been weaned, possibly at the age of four or five, she fulfils her side of the promise and offers the child back to the priest Eli and ultimately as a gift to God.
And thats the point at which we join the story, as Hannah lifts up her little boy and gives him to Eli, saying "I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he shall be given over to the Lord....."
She is overjoyed that in her, God has demonstrated that principle of righteousness by which the injustices of life are checked and its wrongs reversed. Her prayer - or song - that we hear now, is the pattern that served Mary the mother of Jesus when it was her turn to praise God.
Luke 1: 46-56 Marys Story
Weve heard the story of a young woman called Hannah who rose from a situation of desperation, to become the mother of one of the greatest figures in the Old Testament - after a significant meeting with someone special, the priest Eli.
Now we turn our thoughts to another young woman, one of the common folk of Palestine. At the time of our story it was not quite the romantic picture of peace and tranquillity. Apparently Palestine was a land of shocking poverty, overcrowded and pressing hard on its poor resources of food and water - probably as ravaged with hunger and want as India is today.
It was through these simple folk, from Elijah to Amos that God had spoken in the past. Of course, he had influence in high places as well, and Isaiah is a case in point, but somehow his word found a readier resting place within these country folk. Perhaps because they were a bit less tainted by the materialism of the world - they were certainly more dependant on their God for the supplying of their needs.
So it is that Mary, of humble beginnings, struggling to live in difficult times, meets someone who will change her life completely. This time its not a priest but the angel Gabriel - sent by God to bring, we are told, glad tidings - she has been chosen by God. And what a purpose shes been chosen for!
Hannah prayed for the impossible to happen, and God granted her request. Mary was told that the impossible was about to happen, and had the faith to let it - to say "YES"
"I am the Lords servant" Mary answers the angel. "May it be to me as you have said."
Hannah offered a song of praise to God who had answered her prayer. Mary also was stirred into song, and the whole pattern of her song - the magnificat - was poetry and imagery from the Old Testament.
Hannahs faith was such that she was prepared not only to put all her trust in God, but then to offer all that he had given back to him as an offering. An ordinary person, like you or me, she will be remembered for all time as the mother of Samuel, one of Israels greatest leaders.
Marys faith was such that she also could put all her trust in God, and just as Hannah offered her son back to the one who had given him to her, so Mary in a few short years was to stand at the foot of the cross and give her son back to his heavenly Father. And she of course will also be remembered for all time, and her true status should always be recognized.
Such love, such faith, such examples to us all. Listen to the familiar words of Marys song, recognize in them the tremendous sense of awe, of gratitude and humility of someone who was prepared to let go of everything in order that Gods will might be done. To be chosen and be happy to say YES
© John Birch Top of Page