Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Advent Day 24, 2015 - ...given to the Lord...

 They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord.’
 The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. 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 for ever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.’ Her husband Elkanah said to her, ‘Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the Lord establish his word.’ So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. 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. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 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. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.’
She left him there for the Lord. - I Samuel 1:19-28

The story of Hannah is one of the miraculous birth stories of the Bible. Hannah's story is a kind of precursor to that of Elizabeth, Mary's cousin. It's not an exact match, but both were older women, barren all their lives, and both desirous of a child. Being barren was seen as a curse, but I think their desire for a child was not just to eliminate the appearance of that curse but rather a natural desire most women have to nurture and raise a child.

Hannah was the beloved wife of a pious man named Elkanah. Every year they went to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice. There Hannah prayed so fervently that a priest, Eli, who was watching her, accused her of being drunk in a holy place. He did believe her, however, when she explained her predicament and that if God gave her a son, she would give him back to God to live as a Nazirite all his life. Her prayers were answered and her son Samuel was born within the year. She kept him at home until he was weaned which, as was customary then, was about the age of three. Then she took Samuel, some grain and a three-year-old bull calf to Shiloh and presented him to Eli as she had promised.

It must have been a hard thing to do, to let go of a child she had desired for so long. Granted, she could probably visit him every year when they went up to worship, but it's not like having him underfoot and growing before her eyes. Still, she kept her promise and God made Samuel a great prophet. It was Samuel who anointed first Saul and then David to be king of Israel.

Sometimes it is necessary to give up something or someone one loves. Some reasons may be better than others, like giving up unhealthy habits like smoking, but giving up a child? Hannah had a good reason: to keep a promise to God. Some of us can't manage to keep even simple promises we make to God, so what would we do if we had to give up a child in order to keep that promise?

Giving up things is something we usually think about during Lent, but this is still Advent. Most churches have finished their annual pledge drive with reminders that we have a responsibility to return to God some of the treasure we have been given. We have gifts of time, talent and treasure, and we are encouraged to give some of each to God. That can present a sacrifice, but not on par with Hannah's - or Mary's.

The thing is to make sure that whatever we give to the Lord, it is the best that we have or can do. That's what Hannah's gift was, a cherished son. As this Advent comes to its last days, it is not too late to not just be awake and alert, but to find something in our lives that we can give to the Lord. It is not just something we should do, it should be something we want to do.

We have been given blessings, now perhaps it's time to give back to the Lord.

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