Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Advent 2017: December 19

The angel of the Lord came upon Hagar by a spring in the wilderness, the spring on the road to Shur, and he said, 'Hagar, Sarai's slave girl, where have you come from and where are you going?'  She answered, 'I am running away from Sarai my mistress.'  The angel of the Lord said to her, 'Go back to your mistress and submit to ill-treatment at her hands.'  He also said, 'I shall make your descendants too many to be counted.'  The angel of the Lord went on:

'You are with child and will bear a son.
You are to name him Ishmael,
because the Lord has heard of your ill-treatment.
He will be like the wild ass;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone's hand against him;
and he will live at odds with all his kin.'

Hagar called the Lord who spoke to her by the name El-roi, for she said, 'Have I indeed seen God and still live after that vision"?  That is why the well is called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.  Hagar bore Abram a son, and he named the child she bore him Ishmael.  Abram was eighty-six years old when she bore Ishmael.

--Genesis 16:7-16, REB

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinths of Mamre, as he was sitting at the opening of his tent in the heat of the day.  He looked up and saw three men standing over against him.  On seeing them, he hurried from his tent door to meet them.  Bowing low, he said, 'Sirs, if I have deserved your favor, do not go past your servant without a visit.  Let me send for some water so that you may bathe your feet; and rest under this tree, while I fetch a little food so that you may refresh yourselves.  Afterwards you may continue the journey which has brought you my way.'  They said, 'Very well, do as you say.'  So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, 'Quick, take three measures of flour, knead it, and make cakes.'  He then hastened to the herd, chose a fine, tender calf, and gave it to a servant, who prepared it at once.  He took curds and milk and the calf which was now ready, set it all before them, and there under the tree waited on them himself while they ate.

They asked him where Sarah his wife was, and he replied, 'She is in the tent.'  One of them said, 'About this time next year I shall come back to you, and you wife Sarah will have a son.'  Now Sarah was listening at the opening of the tent close by him.  Both Abraham and Sarah were very old, Sarah being all past the age of childbearing.  So she laughed to herself and said, 'At my time of life I am past bearing children, and my husband is old.'  The Lord said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh and say "Can I really bear a child now that I am so old?"  Is anything impossible for the Lord?  In due season, at this time next year, I shall come back to you, and Sarah will have a son.'  Because she was frightened Sarah lied and denied that she had laughed; but he said, 'Yes, you did laugh.'

--Genesis 18:1-15, REB

There was a certain man from Zorah of the tribe of Dan whose name was Manoah and whose wife was barren; she had no child.  The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, 'Though you are barren and have no child, you will conceive and give birth to a son.  Now be careful to drink no wine or strong drink, and to eat no forbidden food.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, an no razor must touch his head, for the boy is to be a Nazirite, consecrated to God from birth.  He will strike the first blow for Israel's freedom from the power of the Philistines.

The woman went and told her husband. "A man of god came to me,' she told him; 'his appearance was that of an angel of God, most terrible to see.  I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name, but he said to me "You are going to conceive and give birth to as on.  From now on drink no wine or strong drink and eat no forbidden food, for the boy is to be a Nazirite, consecrated to God from birth to the day of his death." '

Manoath prayed to the Lord, 'If it is pleasing to you, Lord, let the man of God whom you sent come again to tell us what we are to do for the boy that is to be born.'  God heard Manoah's prayer, and the angel of God came again to the woman, as she was sitting in the field.  Her husband not being with her, the woman ran quickly and said to him, 'The man who came to me the other day has appeared to me again.'  Manoah went with her at once and approached the man and said, 'Are you the man who talks with my wife?'  'Yes,' he replied, 'I am.'  'Now when your words come true,' Manoah said, 'what kind of boy will he be and what will he do?'  The angel of the Lord answered, 'Your wife must be careful to do all I have told her:  she must not taste anything that comes from the vine; she must drink no wine or strong drink, and she must eat no forbidden food.  She must do whatever I say.'

Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, 'May we urge you to stay?  Let us prepare a young goat for you.'  The angel replied, 'Though you urge me to stay I shall not eat your food; but prepare a whole offering if you will, and offer that to the Lord.'  Manoah did not know that was the angel of the Lord, and said to him, 'What is your name?  For we shall want to honor you when your words come true.'  The angel of the Lord said to him, 'How can you ask my name?  It is a name of wonder.'  Manoah took a young goat with the proper grain-offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to him whose works are full of wonder.  While Manoah and his wife were watching, the flame went up from the altar towards heaven, and the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame.  Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell face downward to the ground.

The woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson.  The boy grew up in Mahaneh-dan between Zorah and Eshtaol, and the Lord blessed him, and the spirit of the Lord began to move him.

--Judges 13:1-20, 24 (REB)

There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, named Elkanah sone of Jeroham, sone of Elihu, sone of Tohu, son of Zuph and Ephraimite.  He had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah; Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless.  Every year this mane went up from his town to worship and offer sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh, where Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.

When Elkanah sacrificed, he gave several shares of the meat to his wife Peninnah with all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave only one share; the Lord had not granted her children, yet it was Hannah whom Elkanah loved.  Hannah's rival also used to torment and humiliate her because she had no children.  This happened year after year when they went up to the house of the Lord; her rival used to torment her, until she was in tears and would not eat.  Her husband Elkanah said to her, 'Hannah, why are you crying and eating nothing?  Why are you so miserable?  And I not more to you than ten sons?'

After they had finished eating and drinking at the sacrifice at Shiloh, Hannah rose in deep distress, and weeping bitterly stood before the Lord and prayed to him.  Meanwhile Eli the priest was sitting in his seat besides the door of the temple the Lord.  Hannah made this vow:  'Lord of Hosts, if you will only take notice of my trouble and remember me, if you will not forget me but grant me offspring, then I shall give the child to the Lord for the whole of his life, and no razor shall ever touch his head.'

For a long time she sent on praying before the Lord, while Eli watched her lips.  Hannah was praying silently; her lips were moving although her voice could not be heard, and Eli took her for a drunken woman.  'Enough of this drunken behavior!' he said to her.  'Leave off until the effect of the wine has gone.'  'Oh, sir!' she answered, 'I am no heart-broken woman; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my feelings before the Lord.  Do not think me so devoid of shame, sir; all this time I have been speaking out of the depths of my misery.'  Eli said, 'Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant what you have asked of him.'  Hannah replied, 'May I be worthy of your kindness.'  And no longer downcast she went away and had something to eat.

Next morning they were up early and, after prostrating themselves before the Lord, returned to their home at Ramah.  Elkanah had intercourse with his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her; she conceived, and in due time bore a son, whom she named Samuel, 'because,' she said, 'I asked the Lord for him.'

--1 Samuel 1:1-20 (REB)

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there happened to be this priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly clan of Abijah.  His wife, a descendent of Aaron, was named Elizabeth.  They were both scrupulous in the sight of God, obediently following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.  But they had no children, because Elizabeth was infertile, and both were well along in years.  While he was serving as priest before God when his priestly clan was on temple duty, it so happened that he was chosen by lot, according to the customs of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense.

At the hour of incense, while a huge crowd was praying outside, there appeared to him a messenger of the Lord standing to the right of the altar of incense.  When he saw him, Zechariah was shaken and overcome by fear.  But the heavenly messenger said to him, "Don't be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to name him John.  And you will be joyful and elated, and many will rejoice at his birth, because he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he will drink no wine or beer, and he will be filled with holy spirit from the very day of his birth.  And he will cause many of the children of Israel to turn to the Lord their God.  He will precede him in the spirit and power of Elijah; he will turn the hearts of the parents back toward their children, and the disobedient back toward the ways of righteousness, and will make people ready for their lord.'

But Zechariah said to the heavenly messenger, "How can I be sure of this?  For I am an old man and my wife is all along in years."  

And the messenger answered him, "I am Gabriel, the one who stands in the presence of God.  I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.  Listen to me:  you will be struck silent and speechless until the day these things happen because you did not trust my words, which will come true at the appropriate time.'

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, wondering why he was taking so long in the sanctuary.  And when he did come out and was unable to speak to them, they realized that he had seen a vision inside.  And he kept making signs to them, since he could not speak.  And it so happened, when his time of official service was completed, that he went back home.

Afterwards, his wife Elizabeth conceived, and went into seclusion for five months, telling herself:  "This is how the Lord has seen fit to deal with me in his good time in taking away the public disgrace (of my infertility)."

--Luke 1:3-24 (SV)

In the sixth month the heavenly messenger Gabriel was sent form God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David.  The virgin's name was Mary.  He entered and said to her "Greetings, favored one.  The Lord is with you!"

But she was deeply disturbed by the words, and wondered what the greeting could mean.

The heavenly messenger said to her, "Don't be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Listen to me:  you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father.  He will rule over the house of Jacob forever; and his dominion will have no end."

And Mary said to the messenger, "How can this be, since I am not involved with a man?"

The messenger replied, "The holy spirit will come over you, and the power of the Most High will cast its shadow on you.  This is why the child to be born will be holy, and be called son of God.  Further, your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age.  She who was said to be infertile is already six months along, since nothing is impossible with God."

And Mary said, "Here I am, the Lord's slave.  May everything you have said come true."  Then the heavenly messenger left her.

--Luke 1:26-38 (SV)

1 comment:

  1. Rereading these passages, and thinking about the angel visiting the shepherds in the fields to announce the good news in Luke, I am struck how often the first thing said is don't be afraid. It's not surprising, here is something in this world but not of this world. It would be shocking, even terrifying to have this sudden tearing of reality. But as I reread these passages again, I wonder if the "don't be afraid" is also meant to apply to the coming events themselves. At Advent, we ponder the coming of a powerless infant that calls for the upending of all things. The last shall be first and the first shall be the servants of all. The hungry will be filled, the weeping comforted, the prisoner released and the rich sent away empty handed. That could be very scary, a reordering of our personal universe. Don't be afraid. Herod hears the news of the coming and is afraid. In his fear he unleashes the slaughter of the innocents. Nothing really changes of course, today the wealthy live in fear they will not have enough, or they will lose their power. So yesterday we passed "reform" that takes from the poorest to give to the richest. CHIP remains unfunded, children's health and even lives will be sacrificed to allay the fear of the richest for not enough. This is the human view of the world, it's a zero sum game. God's justice of there is enough for all, the first are servants of all, is no where to be found.

    So my advent devotional is to not be afraid. To not be afraid of the existence God's justice today, and it's coming again on Christmas Eve. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people." Don't be afraid.