Hannah’s and Mary’s Song
Grace and peace to you from God who is like no other, God, who is with us in our brokenness, and God who lifts us up out of the ash heap. Amen.
Today, we heard the song of two women. Two women, born 11 centuries apart each with a similar story. One woman desperately wants a son but remains barren for a long time. Finally, after making a deal with the Lord, he is born. And another woman, who was too young and unmarried to find out if she was barren yet, gives birth – also to a son.
Both sons were dedicated to the Lord. One son, Samuel, served as a minister of the temple and then as a prophet. One son, Jesus, is the son of God, who came to preach good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, and to build the kingdom of heaven. Both mothers, aware of the heartache ahead of them, pray these prayers and proclaim the message of the gospel in their songs.
When we read Hannah and Samuel’s story, we might be tempted to read it as an example of how to get what we want by making a bargain with God. If I pray hard enough, and make the right kind of deal with God, he will give me what I ask for.
Have you ever done this before? There was something you wanted so badly that you tried to convince God to answer your request with a yes that you make unthinkable promises to him?
Hannah prayed, “God if you give me a son, I will give him back to you.” What a heart wrenching deal she made. But no matter how heart wrenching that deal was, this is not the point of the text.
Our texts for today don’t tell us how to get what we want. Our texts for today tell us what God desires for God’s beloved ones. This text prompts us to ask three questions:
Who is God?
What is God trying to do?
Will we join God in God’s mission?
Who is God? Well, that is a huge question, but what we learn from our texts today is that God is a God who is with us. God cares about God’s people deeply and has a special concern for those who are most vulnerable, especially when they are rendered vulnerable by power structures enforced by society.
In our story, Hannah was extremely vulnerable in her historical context because she didn’t have any male offspring. If something were to happen to her husband Elkanah, there would be no one to care for her.
We read in the verses leading up to her prayer that Hannah’s sister wife definitely did not consider her part of the family. Hannah’s sister wife, Peninnah, regularly bullied her.
If Elkanah decided to divorce her because of the lack of children or if he died, Hannah would be left on the street. So, Hannah needs a male offspring to secure her future. Everything is at risk when she prays her prayer. But Hannah also shows her ultimate trust in God when she attempts to make a deal with God. She keeps her end of the bargain and gives up her treasured son to the temple.
The text doesn’t go into how Hannah must have been feeling in that moment as the book isn’t called Hannah, it’s called 1 Samuel and tells the story of his ministry to the people of God. But I am struck by how hard it must have been for her to hand him over to Eli to train and care for him. And yet, she was still able to proclaim God’s goodness in the face of significant grief.
So, know this, God is with you in your grief. That is who God is. God is with you. Our God is a God who is lofty and high and glorious- knows all, loves all, created all.
And God is also the God who sits with us in our ash heaps. This God sits with us in the dust. This God isn’t one who is only found in tidy, fancy places. This God is a God who will meet us anywhere and everywhere.
When Hannah proclaims God’s justice, she is speaking with first hand knowledge. She can say, “God raises the poor up from the dust” because she has been there in the dust. She experienced God’s hand lifting her up.
This is what God does. Hannah reminds us that God will raise up the poor from the dust, he will lift the needy from the ash heap. Just because God is sitting with us in the dust and the ash heap, this doesn’t mean God wants anyone to stay there.
Because, as Hannah proclaims, “God will guard the feet of his faithful ones, and the wicked will be cut off in darkness, for not by might will one prevail.” Violence and power, exploitation and manipulation are the ways of the world, not of God. That’s not who God is. These are the ways that we keep people in the dust and in the ash heaps.
God’s concern is always with the powerless and the oppressed. God is always concerned about those who are exploited and victimized. God sides with the very people who we tend to overlook and ignore. God has always been on the side of the most vulnerable.
So, when you look around at the way of the world and you’re seeing that your rights are being questioned or taken away, know that God hears your prayers.
If when you watch the news and you see that your safety and your right to live a free and empowered life, know that God hears your prayers.
If you are watching the world around you spin out of control and you know that as it’s spinning out of control that you might get hurt in the process, know that God hears your prayers and is holding onto you tightly.
And if you’re a person who tries to use violence, power, exploitation, or manipulation to get your way or to oppress others, you’re just going to have to stop. Because God hears their prayers.
This is not what God wants from you. And this is not how God wants you to treat God’s children.
Finally, this text is asking us, will we join God in God’s mission? Will we join God in proclaiming the justice and liberation these women of the faith sang about and prayed for? Will we join God in raising up the poor from the dust and the needy from the ash heap?
Because according to God, these are people of honor. Those who society walks past, God considers them royalty. In God’s kingdom, “the powerful will be brought down from their thrones and the lowly will be lifted up.” The hungry will no longer be hungry, but instead filled with good things. The rich will go away empty. It’s not their kingdom anymore.
The way God’s kingdom is brought about here on earth is through us joining in God’s work. When Mary heard from her cousin Elizabeth that the angel who told her that she was chosen to bring God Immanuel to earth was correct, she sang a song of praise.
She knew that being chosen for God’s work in the world is a gift and a blessing. So she proclaimed, “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” Because she was chosen in her vulnerability to bring God to us, she knew who the treasured people of God are. She knew that the son she was carrying would proclaim a gospel of freedom and liberation.
She knew that her son would be the one who came to proclaim, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.”
Mary knew that Jesus’ message would be one to change the world. But how does that message change the world? The gospel changes the world when we rise up, out of our ash heaps to follow Jesus, to proclaim justice for the oppressed, and work to dismantle harmful systems that hurt our neighbors. The gospel changes the world when we begin by feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. And then the gospel continues in the next step, when we work to dismantle the systems that keep the hungry hungry and the homeless homeless.
We work side by side with God as “he brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. We feed the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty.” We are God’s hands and feet. Joining God in God’s mission to bring justice and equality to all God’s people is a daily dying to ourselves and a rising in Christ. This is a daily commitment and a recommitment to continually do the hard work to ensure justice for everyone.
And this is the baptismal promise we receive and remember as faith clings to the water, “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
Being marked with the cross of Christ forever means that daily we die to ourselves and daily we arise new. And this new life is one marked by a concern for the poor, a disgust of oppressive systems, and a desire to proclaim liberation to all who need it.
And as we see God’s justice roll out over the earth, we will join Mary in her song and declare, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
Because our lives are forever changed by her willingness to say yes to God.
Because our lives are forever changed by our willingness to say yes to God.
Because God first said yes to us.