1 Samuel 1:19 Hannah and Elkanah rose early in the morning and bowed down and worshipped before the Holy One of Old; then they turned back and went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah and the Holy One remembered her. 20And it was with the turning of the days that Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She called his name Samuel (God hears) for she said, “From the God Who Hears have I asked him.” 21Now the man Elkanah went up along with his whole household to offer to the Holy One the yearly sacrifice on account of a vow. 22Yet Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “(Not) until the child is weaned, then will I bring him, that he may be seen in the presence of the Most High and remain there perpetually. I will present him as a nazirite in perpetuity for all the days of his life.” 23Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what is best in your eyes, stay until you have weaned him. May the Faithful God establish the words of your mouth.” So, the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. 24And she took him up with her after she weaned him along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a jug of wine. Hannah brought him to the house of the Ever-Living God at Shiloh and the boy was just a little boy. 25Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the boy to Eli. 26And Hannah said, “My lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman, the one who was standing beside you into this place to pray to the God Who Hears. 27For this boy I prayed; and the Faithful God gave me my asking, what I asked from God. 28Therefore have I bequeathed him to the Gracious God; all his days will he be a bequest to the God Whose Name Is Holy.” So she left him and she bowed down and she worshipped the Faithful God.
Canticle of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
1Hannah prayed and she said,
“My heart exults in the Holy One of the Old;
My horn is lifted up in my God.
My mouth (opens) wide against my enemies,
For I will rejoice in my victory.
2“There is none holy like the Most High,
none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
3Speak proudly no more, multiplying pride,
Nor let arrogance come from your mouth;
For the Ageless God is a God of knowledge,
And by God deeds are accounted.
4The bows of the mighty are broken,
Yet the feeble gird on warrior-strength,
5Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
Yet those who are hungry are far.
She who was barren has birthed seven children,
Yet she who has many children languishes,
6The Creator of All kills and gives life;
Brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7The Gracious One makes poor and makes rich;
brings low and also lifts up.
8God raises the poor from the dust,
And lifts the needy from heaps of human waste,
To seat them with nobles and inherit a seat of honour
For to the Creator belong the pillars of the earth,
And on them God has set the world.
9God will guard the feet of the faithful who belong to God,
While the wicked perish in shadow;
For it is not by might that one prevails.
10The Holy One of Sinai!
Those who strive against God shall be shattered;
God thunders against them from heaven.
The Fount of Justice will judge the ends of the earth;
God will give strength to God’s ruler,
And exalt the power of the anointed of God.”
Titus 3: 4-7 When the graciousness and the lovingkindness of God our Saviour appeared, God saved us through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done but according to God’s mercy. This Spirit God poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by God’s grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of life eternal.
Matthew 1:18-25 18Now this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah happened: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to have a child in her womb from the Holy Spirit. 19Joseph, her husband, was a just man and unwilling to shame her, he wanted to divorce her secretly. 20But when he deliberated this, suddenly an angel of the Most High God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for in her is conceived a child is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this happened to fulfil what had been spoken by the Most High God through the prophet: 23“Look now! The virgin shall conceive a child in her womb and give birth to a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which translated means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph got up from sleep, he did as the angel of the Most High God commanded him. He took her as his wife, 25yet did not know her sexually until her birthing of a son; and named him Jesus.
Good Morning, St. Matthew!
We gather on this morning in Itasca on the unceded tribal lands of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Ka-skas-kia, Potawatomi, Mya-a-mia, HoChunk, Winnebago and O-che-thi Sakowin nations, acknowledging that hard past and praying our way into a better future.
And so we pray.
Holy Incarnating God, you ask us for primarily to love and trust you. All else that we do is borne from that starting point. Yet more often than not, we fail in our own attempts at love and trust – and find ourselves having to cry out with our limited human ability for you to meet us in our failure and lift us to faith – just as the father cried out for his daughter “I believe! Help thou my unbelief!” Today as we prepare to receive the inbreaking of your very self into human history – we ask you to meet us in our scepticism and doubt – in our unbelief – and lift us to the life changing, life affirming faith that welcomes Jesus as Emmanuel and Saviour.
Today for our Jewish siblings is the first day of Hanukkah. Now in a misguided attempt to build bridges, some folks have called this Jewish Christmas. It is not. It was in fact a relatively minor holiday and has remained so almost everywhere, but in the US. So why did this little festival become such a big deal here? It’s actually a very interesting story made up of many threads. From about 1795 to the 1830s, this country was being swept up into a historical movement called the Second Great Awakening. It was an evangelical movement that sought to make all the world Christian. Now while that might be a laudable goal – there are some problems with it. We are a nation founded on the idea (if not the practice) that everybody has the freedom to believe in whatever they want, and that nobody has the right to force their beliefs on you. And the Jews of the United States understood both the ideal and the reality; being very clever, they asserted their right to belief using that very particular American tenet. And they lifted this tiny holiday to stand, not as Jewish Christmas, but as an explanation that they had an alternative celebration. To their Christian neighbours, they could say “You have your Saviour coming as light into the world – well, we celebrate God’s sustaining light too.” Within the community, they could lift up a story of being sustained in their identity despite a larger, more dominant, cultural attack. The menorah marks us as Jews who survive no matter who comes against us, for God sustains us.
As history marched on in the US, this understanding of Hanukkah as affirmation of identity in the midst of an overwhelming cultural attack grew. As often happens, others too began to lift Hanukkah as an image of God sustaining their people in the midst of turmoil. We forget sometimes how dominant US culture has been. The expanded story that was told here crossed oceans and as history turned darker, with war and Holocaust, this God sustaining candle bright menorah became the symbol for many other Jewish believers of how God sustains in the crushing darkness of oppression. Stories are told of precious food rations being hoarded to create menorahs to burn deep in Auschwitz and other human made hells as testimony to a God who, despite all the odds, sustains the light.
As Christians, we cannot stand on our own; all the prophecy and promise come to us through the story of Judaism. We are not Jews, but our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We do not burn a menorah as God’s Chosen people, but as people who stand with God’s Chosen and who have been, through grace, invited into the promises of salvation that God entrusted to them long ago. Promises are curious things – they invite us to belief and faith. The story of the Maccabees is handed down as testimony to the God who sustains, but the faithful promise that is placed in our hands asks us to believe that the miracle of the lamp oil is possible in our lives as well. Are we capable of believing that the God who spoke in Eden, who whispered to Eve that even as the consequence of sin would play out in her life and in the lives of her descendants, that God would also through her line restore the connection to the Divine – do we believe that promise?
Maybe we who aren’t living the history but looking back through it – can say we affirm that history. But the story of God isn’t about just the past; it’s the story of now and of the future. Do we tell these stories around the campfire or do we hold them as candles burning in our hearts as ways to light our present and as promises of what is to come? Most of us learned our faith at the knees of our elders and parents. What we saw modelled for us by the generations before us has led to this moment. When the testimony is given that our consequences last til the seventh generation isn’t said out of vindictiveness; that’s just the reality of life! I am who I am because of the choices generations before me made – and generations after me will be able to trace many of their successes or failures right to my door. I send hatred and darkness down the centuries, or I can send love and light. I know which one I’d like to be remembered for!
The candle in the menorah that gives its light to the others is called a “shamash” and at least one rabbi has equated the idea of being that candle to being a human shamash and sharing the light of faith with others. In our lessons today, we see the result of a promise; Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel – the one who will anoint David as King – made a promise to the elders at the temple that if only she could bear a son, she would give him into God’s service as a holy man. And on this day, she makes good on this promise; Samuel is presented to the leaders of the Temple as a an acolyte. I struggled with fertility and when my son Leo was born, I am 99% sure I could not have ever let him go. Yet the faith that shaped Hannah to ask is now the faith that can let him go. That faithful witness literally buckles my knees. Hannah has become the Shamash that will light the candles that open the path to David, and down through time, reveal the path to the manger and the salvation from the line of David, through Joseph.
Ah! Joseph! You knew I had to get there! Joseph who is the reason we say Jesus was of the line of David. As an adoptee and adopter, it has always offended me greatly when people have said, “Oh, but Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ realio trulio father; he was just Jesus’ adopted father.” Humph. I am here to tell you all that Harry Kuehn was my realio trulio father, whether or not his DNA swims in my veins. Now my dad was a shamash – he lit me with faith and love so bright that it has lit my way ever since I was placed in his arms by Miss Bailey. And he told me once that the difference between my sister’s biological birth and mine was that as a biological father he just was told he would be a dad, that it was pretty much a done thing and his job would be to support my mom. But in the process of becoming an adoptive father, he mattered as much as my mom – whether or not I came into their lives, depended on his answers and on his character as much as it depended on my mother’s.
Likewise, whether or not Jesus will be incarnated as a fulfilment of prophecy, will depend on Joseph’s yes. Maybe it took 5000 years of history to get to the couple who would both say yes to this mission. God, in respecting the free will with which we were created, did not just dump this mission into their laps – God awaited their yes. Mary’s yes as the mother of God is of course HUGE – but Joseph’s yes is also needed. He will be the protector, the provider and God needs his yes to bring this forward. And Joseph is not just that – he is the fulfilment of that light Hannah begged to bear – the prophet who anointed David through whose line salvation would come. Again, telling the history makes it all seem so clear – but those living it could not see the path they were illuminating step by step. They trusted, lit the flame and passed it on.
Today we finish our Advent Sundays – this coming week, we will recall the history that saw God incarnate in a manger in the city of Jerusalem. And Advent is not just about looking back, it is about looking to our present and to our future and asking how are we acting as a shamash to light the way to the second coming. The saint we commemorate today is no longer well known, but Ignatius was one of three founding fathers of the original church. It was he, Clement of Rome and Polycarp who fought to make sure the church would actually be a church and not just a passing fad. They thought, they wrote, they prayed to be sure faith would have a home in which to flourish. He is writing around the same time that the Gospel of John is taking form, and his letters come alongside into that moment to speak to how the Jesus movement becomes a sustaining faith. We know very little about his life, save that we know he really ticked the government of Rome off with the power of his arguments. We know this because that government took the unusual step of actually bringing Ignatius to Rome to try him. And Ignatius will not allow the fire lit in him to be blown out – so he will die and be martyred in the first century. But his shamash flame keeps on burning, coming down to us today here in this sanctuary.
So today – we again ask the question; will you give God your yes? Will you be the shamash to light the way for future generations to find their path to the manger and faith in the Babe it holds and faith in the Saviour it promises? There is no denying that we light these candles in what seems a hopeless void – but faith tells us to trust, that no matter how limited our view, no matter how small our flame, the promise that God will sustain us – and salvation will come to redeem the world.