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Friday, Third Week of Advent

December 22, 2006

Blessed Friday!

O King of the Gentiles
And their desired One
Cornerstone who binds two into one
Come and save man
Whom You fashioned from the dust of the earth

Isaiah 2:4:
And he shall judge the Gentiles,
and rebuke many people
(see also Psalm 2:7-8, Ephesians 2:11-13, 20-21, Genesis 2:7)

I Samuel 1:24-28 (as soon as she’s weaned him, Hannah brings Samuel to the temple to give him to God)
I Samuel 2:1, 4-8 (Hannah’s song) “My heart rejoices in the Lord, my Savior”
+ Luke 1:46-56 (Mary’s Magnificat)

Again we have a day of parallels: two unlikely mothers, two promised children, two joyful prayers of victory. I can relate to Hannah. Like her, I’ve been unable to bear a child, and although I am awestruck by the responsibilities of motherhood, still I grieve the loss. I want to raise up immortal souls for Heaven. I haven’t had to suffer the taunts of a fertile rival as Hannah did, but I know what it’s like to beg God for His mercy on my helplessness. Hannah prayed so fervently that the priest scolded her for coming to the temple drunk! She wanted to bear a child for God too. She promised that if He gave her a son, she would dedicate him to God for life. What we read this morning is the account of that offering. When God opened her womb, she brought her weaned son, Samuel, to the temple…and she left him there (I Samuel 2:4-8). She gave back to God what He had entrusted to her. We go right into her prayer of praise and thanksgiving in the responsorial “psalm”. Hannah celebrates the victory God gives to the littlest and the least, as He strengthens the weak, fills the hungry and lifts up the lowly.

Mary, responding to Elizabeth’s greeting, picks up Hannah’s joyful theme and gives it new meaning as she praises God for the Messiah growing within her womb. She, too, would give her Son back to God when He began His preaching ministry, and when He offered Himself on the altar of the Cross. Mary, as a faithful Jewess, probably knew Hannah’s story and Hannah’s song. Reader’s Digest’s Great People of the Bible and How They Lived, says that it was customary for fathers to recite the stories of their Hebrew ancestors during the evening meal. God had commanded His people to teach their children His words, “speaking of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest” (Deuteronomy 11:19). Religious education wasn’t just reserved for the temple or synagogue, but was an integral part of family life; so whether Mary was able to read or not, Hannah’s story would have been as familiar to her as Cinderella’s is to children today. Mary knew that she was as dependent on God as Hannah had been, and she gave credit where credit was due. Again, God had chosen the lowly, the helpless, to fulfill His promise.

Hannah’s and Mary’s recognition of blessing in the midst of helplessness is yet another facet of a paradox God keeps presenting to us. We think of strength and riches and fame as good things, and they are. God made Adam strong, wealthy, and beloved. But God keeps recommending weakness, poverty and persecution. It’s all over the Old Testament. It’s modeled in Jesus’ own life of poverty, presented in many of Jesus’ parables and sermons (the Beatitudes are just one example), and repeated over and over again in the lives of the saints and the teachings of the Church. Why? What’s so great about these consequences of sin?

Consequences. That’s the key word. When parents wisely discipline their children, they use consequences as teaching tools. The response to the disobedience is designed as much as possible to reinforce the connection between the command and the need it was meant to meet. Perhaps the child who refuses to do the dishes doesn’t get to eat the next meal because there isn’t a clean dish for him to eat from. Hopefully, he learns the connection between washing the dishes and being able to eat from them.

God is the perfect Father, the Master of consequences. Adam sinned because he thought he could rely on himself. He thought he could make himself happy apart from God. But God didn’t make us that way. He made each of us with a God-sized hole in our hearts that only He could fill. So God rearranged Adam’s life to remind him of his dependence. Likewise, when King David grew rich and powerful, he forgot his need for God, falling into adultery and a cover-up murder. God allowed the child so conceived to die, to remind David that even kings are dependent on God (II King 11 & 12).

The same sort of story is played out again and again in Israel’s history (and our own!). Our selfish response to blessings blinds us to God, so He has to take the blessings away from us & start over. When God recommends poverty, lowliness and weakness to us, it’s not because these things are good in and of themselves. It’s because they’re safer for our spiritual well-being! God can’t fill me with Himself if I’m already full of myself.

The Divine Infant is coming to us in just a few days. Have we emptied ourselves of our selfishness to make room for Him? Are we, like Mary, full of the emptiness of a hollow reed, through which He can play His love song?* We would do well to follow Hannah’s and Mary’s example, to entrust to God for safekeeping the treasures He gives to us so that we will always seek them in His arms.

May God teach us to love the lowliness that binds us to His Heart.

* This idea and imagery come from Caryll Houselander’s, _The Reed of God_

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