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Posts Tagged ‘Samuel’

It is interesting that we will explore Hannah’s Song at our Advent Vespers just one day after the globalized day of prayer against hunger on December 10.  Before we reach Hannah uplifting her prayer of thanksgiving about her son, we learn in the book 1 Samuel that Hannah had been rebuked for reaching for more food at dinner one night by her husband’s second wife, Peniniah.

hannahs-prayerEven in a prosperous household, food can be used as a weapon.  It is presumed that Elkanah’s household was affluent, which was why he could accommodate having both Hannah and Peniniah as wives.  Hannah was barren where Peniniah had many children.  Peniniah scolded Hannah for reaching for more food, stating that the extra food should go to her own children.  At that table, food was used to shame Hannah for the barrenness that was beyond her control.

It was this encounter that prompted Hannah to go to the temple and plead with God for a son.  She made a bargain, vowing that if she is blessed with a child she would give him over to God to be a Nazarite.  Soon after, she gave birth to Samuel, whose name translates “name of God.”  When Samuel was about 3 years old, the family journeys to Shiloh where Hannah gives Samuel over to the priest Eli, fulfilling her promise made in the temple.  It is here in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 we encounter her prayer of thanksgiving.

It was common for prayers of thanksgiving to be sung aloud.  Add that ritual with the literary structure and strong symbolism, Hannah’s prayer often referred to as a psalm or song.  Since Hannah was heading to the temple as she proclaimed this prayer, many traditions sing this song in advance to worship as a pietistic preparation.

Hannah’s song strongly parallel’s the style and structure of Psalm 113, a song of thanksgiving that is accredited to David.  The structure and style of songs of thanksgiving are somewhat formulaic in structure – they tend to begin with an word of praise, refer back to how God has acted on behalf of the people in creation in the past, and look to the future at how God will bring glory in the future.  Such a structure was useful when used corporately in an assembly, as it leads to natural breaks for call and response between the congregation and the cantor.

This structure for songs of thanksgiving is so strong that we see it repeated in numerous psalms, including Mary the mother of Jesus’ psalm of thanksgiving at the annunciation.  The similarities between Mary’s song and Hannah’s song are so strong that some scholars believe that Mary’s song was an adaptation of the familiar song from Hannah.

We explore Hannah’s song at 7 pm on Wednesday, December 11.  Dinner will be held at 6 pm for those interested.  Join us next week as we encounter the song of John the Baptist in Luke 3:1-18.

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The following sermon was preached on Sunday, December 29, 2012 at Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH.  This message is based on Luke 2:41-52 and 1 Samuel 2:18-26.

It was a dark time in the kingdom of God.  The earth was calling for a new ruler, one that would bring peace to a struggling nation.  Through divine interaction, a woman who shouldn’t be pregnant suddenly gave birth to a child who would change the nations.

In the wake of this miraculous news, his mother glorifies God and she says: “My heart exults in the Lord, and my strength is exalted in my God.”

Every year, the boy and his parents travel in honor of the yearly sacrifice.  He studied in the holy place, increasing in wisdom and growing in stature and favor both in the eyes of the people and God.

The name of this is שְׁמוּאֵ֔ל (shem’el).  Samuel.

streetsofjerusalemThis morning as our Gospel takes us to the streets of Jerusalem, frantically searching for twelve-year old Jesus, we are introduced to a side of our Savior that we are not familiar with.  Luke shows us the only text of Jesus in his teenage years and invites us into a confusing moment between parents and child.

How are we to react to this scenario of the Holy Family?  How are we to respond to the apparent obliviousness of Mary and Joseph preventing them from realizing that Jesus would be studying in the temple?

What do we think of the fact that Jesus abandoned the safety of the caravan and left his parents without letting them know where he was going?  The streets of Jerusalem were known to be dangerous during the Passover festival days, where lone travelers were often abducted or harmed.  Jesus leaving the caravan was not solely just a quest for knowledge, but appears to be at total disregard for the safety of himself and his parents.  Each day they were farther from the safety of the caravan the risk of abduction and robbery grew and grew.  How do we reconcile such a seemingly ill-conceived plan from our Christ child?

The seasons of Christmas and Epiphany give us opportunities to explore the notion of incarnation in a unique way.  Each season looks at the human embodiment of God on earth through its own specific lens.  Lent and Holy Week have a strong focus on the physical pain and suffering of Jesus – the hunger in the wilderness, the crown of thorns, the weight of the cross, and the unquenchable thirst.  The long season of Pentecost has an emphasis on the Spirit.  It begs us to ask how we as members of the body of Christ can use the example of our incarnated Lord to care for the sick, feed the hungry, and build a better tomorrow for our church.  Advent shows us the future of incarnation, how Christ will return and complete the restoration of the earth.

It is here in the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany that we see the incarnation in our relationships.  In other lectionary years during this time period, we learn that Jesus was circumcised, an event that maintained the covenant made between Isreal and God.  We see how his parents and community hid him from the slaughter of Herod’s homicidal reign.  We see Jesus turning water into wine while he is a guest at a couple’s wedding.

Incarnation, God in the flesh, has a different feeling during these seasons, and today, as we approach the temple doors we are invited into yet another way of understanding what that looks like.  Here Jesus studies, growing in wisdom so that he can live into his calling.  We also are privy to a unique view of his relationship with his earthly parents, and where that relationship falls in context to his purpose on earth.

The steps of teenage Jesus strongly echo that of Samuel, the bringer of change to a different time.  Samuel was among the last of the judges before kings were appointed to bring stability to Israel.  It is Samuel who appoints Saul as king, ultimately leading to the reign of David.

Samuel’s mother Hannah was barren when she conceived him, much like Elizabeth was when she conceived.  Hannah agreed to give Samuel over to God so that he would not be corrupted by the sons of her husband’s other wife, Peninnah.  Knowing he would be a man of great faith, she named her son Samuel, שְׁמוּאֵ֔ל (shem’el), which in Hebrew means “He who is with God.”

jerusalemSamuel was a great judge and a wise leader.  He brought change to Israel and hope for the future.  But there is a difference between being שְׁמוּאֵ֔ל (shem’el), “he who is with God” and being Emmanuel, “God with us.”

There is a difference between the ruler who follows the steps of God and God actually ruling on earth.  There are limits to human power and limitations to human strength.  These barriers do not exist for Jesus.

Three days wandering the streets of unsafe Jerusalem for a human would have been the source of great danger.  Three days lying in a cold, darkened tomb after dying would have meant no more life for a human.

At the end of each of these three days, where we would expect a human to be lying dead, we instead find Jesus alive.  Still with us, still studying our customs and conversing with the people in the temple.

We are now a few days outside of Christmas, and while the world moves forward from the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we may feel that we have lost Jesus.  We look and look and we can’t find him.

He’s no longer in the stores.  He’s no longer ringing out from our local radio stations and the movie specials have long since ended.  Much like the caravan that brought Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Jerusalem, our family has all gone home or will be leaving soon.

We look for Jesus, and it can be hard to find him.  He slowly slips in our mind from Emmanuel, “God with us” to Samuel, “He who is with God.”  We know if we find Jesus he’ll tell us about God because he is holy and righteous.  But do we still expect him to be our Savior, our Prince of Peace?  Do we still have the hope of restoration and resurrection?

We are challenged this morning to broaden our understanding of incarnation.  Jesus may not be where we expect him to be, lying down in a lowly manger or hanging up upon a wooden cross.  Those things are vital, those actions more sacred then the collective steps of any king or ruler, but they are a portion of the incarnated puzzle.

Jesus lied in that manger and died upon the cross to be in relationship with us.  To be near us.  To know us.  To show us love in an intimate and vibrant way.  To eliminate all barriers of brokenness and shame from our human condition that would keep us from experiencing the full breadth of the grace of God.  Jesus did these things not because he needed them for the glory or for the fame.  Jesus did these things because we needed them to happen in order to truly understand the gift of unconditional love.

Incarnation is a gift God has given us, a sacred and holy relationship that God continues to work at even when we drop the ball, when we mistreat our family, when we misuse our resources, when we forget what Christmas is all about five days after we sing “Silent Night.”

Through the gift of incarnation, Jesus studied at the temple so that he could speak to us on a human level, not speak down to us from a divine one.  Jesus was born to human parents because whether we like to admit it or not, our family context shapes who we are.  Jesus followed the traditions of his time to help us understand that his authority is grounded in our reality.

There is a difference between the ruler who follows the steps of God and God actually ruling on earth.  There is a reason we sing Emmanuel instead of Samuel.  The gift of the Word made flesh speaks to us and supports us, giving us the grace of unconditional love.

Amen.

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