Excerpted from My Soul Magnifies the Lord, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year C from the North Carolina Council of Churches. This post contains the scripture passages and reflections on their application.
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each
The events recorded in 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 are not lost on this mother considering what has gone before. Earlier in Chapter 1 we read that Hannah is a barren woman who seeks the favor of the Lord over and over for a child. Even when her prayers are not immediately answered, even when her womb fails to bring forth a child—she doesn’t stop asking, doesn’t stop praying, doesn’t stop going to the temple. The earlier parts of the story do not tell us if she ever wanted to give up or considered her efforts to be pointless. We just know that she was so very faithful.
In the background of Hannah’s pleas is a hint of what it meant for her not to have a child in the societal context in which she lived. A woman’s worth was judged harshly if she didn’t have a child. As we move through the story her husband takes an additional wife, who did bear him children and subsequently mocked Hannah for childlessness.
By Chapter 2 Hannah’s prayers have been answered and she has made a promise. Indeed, when Hannah is blessed by the priest Eli, her answers echo through the years and take root in Mary’s response to the news that she would bear a child, as is told in the Gospel of Luke. Hannah says, “Let your handmaid find favor in your sight.” Mary says, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it to me according to your word.” Mary’s Magnificat parallels Hannah’s Song. The parallels don’t end there. Samuel 2:26 is again echoed in Luke’s gospel as both Samuel and Jesus are said to have grown in wisdom and stature, finding favor with both God and people. Samuel 2:18-20, 26 presents the character of Hannah in much the same ways as the earlier chapter, faithful and ever willing to do what God asks of her. Now we see Hannah as a mother remain faithful to her promises. She made a promise to offer her child in service to God for God’s answer to her prayers. We aren’t told how often she sees the son she offered in service to God, but it seems, not often. Certainly not as often as a mother who wakes up everyday with her child in her home, sharing meals with him, working alongside him, teaching him and praying with him at the day’s end. Hannah still finds a way to be faithful and be his mother. Every year on her pilgrimage to the temple, Hannah takes Samuel a robe to be used as he serves God. Eli, the priest, blesses both her and her husband this time, just as he blessed Hannah earlier, before Samuel’s birth. Ending with verse 20, we are haunted by his blessing, a child to replace the one she had given up, and Hannah as faithful and mother.
~Nicole Johnson, PHW Regional Coordinator
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple,sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’* But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
Christmas Day is behind us. The new year is soon upon us. Reflecting on our time with family and friends can be healing and nostalgic. We celebrated the birth of Jesus with food, love, and laughter.
On this day, as we read the story of Hannah and her child, her faithfulness is undeniable. Likewise, in the story of the curious young Jesus, his faithfulness to God shows forth. Upon being found by parents who believed him lost, he replies, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). The virtue of faithfulness is often connected to religion. Loyalty is almost interchangeable with faithfulness. But loyalty is more descriptive of our sentiments toward organizations, jobs, political parties, or our partners. The difference between loyalty and faithfulness could lie in the fact that loyalty is based on a past experience or previous encounter. A person is loyal to a partner because they have a relationship. One cannot be loyal to a partner not yet met. Faithfulness, on the other hand, (special attention to the word faith) is based on the belief of a hope-filled future. One is a faithful Christian because of the imbedded hope and promise of a more bountiful and flourishing life.
Faithfulness can take the shape of many things. Some people may even conflate faithfulness with tradition or “blindly following” an established institution. A more productive perspective, however, is to view faithfulness, rather than loyalty, as seeing the future for what it can be. Being full-of-faith can feel like peace and trust that we, each of us in our human forms, are enough.
Jesus, as a spry 12-year-old, is transfixed by the teachers in the temple. He yearns to learn more, connect more, and understand more. He is so at peace in the temple that his parents’ concerns are lost on him. I picture him seated, cross-legged, at the feet of the teachers, eagerly smiling and speaking enthusiastically. What a wonderful example of faithfulness.
As we prepare for the new year, it’s natural to reflect on our life. The new year is an opportunity to allow ourselves to evolve. It is so easy to feel pressure on us to stay faithful to a job, a partner, a way of life, or a belief. But pressure should not be at the root of our faithfulness. I have been asking myself a few questions to sort through the loyalty/faithful conundrum. What am I faithful to? What pieces of my life give me hope for a better future? What trends in my life will I look back on and be proud of? My answers may come in the form of people, ideas, or organizations. I am not faithful because that is what is expected of me. Staying faithful is a choice that I make every single day. As Jesus did: ask questions, be curious, and find your home place.
~Michelle Peedin, Program Associate for NCIPL and PHW