Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 11/18/2018

Like me, you’ve probably noticed that the rush to Christmas is already here. It was before Halloween that I saw my first Christmas themed TV commercial and now a pretty good percentage of commercials have a Christmas tree in the background along with beautiful people happy after having received the perfect gift whatever it might be. Stores, of course, have had Christmas stuff out for a long time, lights and decorations are now starting to show up in other places, the Hallmark channel has been showing happy ending Christmas movies 24 hours a day since mid October.

None of this is a surprise anymore, it’s just the commercial consumer world we live in so there’s no sense in getting too worked up about how early it is and actually, with the amount of snow we’ve had it makes it seem like it’s not so early after all; it makes Christmas feel closer than it really is. Strangely enough, starting today, the church kind of gets in on the act even though the official pre-Christmas season of Advent doesn’t start for two more weeks. Today and next Sunday though, will be the last two Sundays of the Year B cycle of semi-continuous Old Testament readings we’ve been using since June and today the readings take what I think is an unexpected turn back to First Samuel, a turn that could be seen as a preview of Advent.

It was awhile ago so you perhaps don’t remember, but back in June the Old Testament readings started in First Samuel with the call of Samuel and that began the back story that leads to the eventual rise of David as the King of Israel. In June and July there were several weeks of David stories followed by stories of his son Solomon, then a few weeks of Proverbs, then Job, then Esther and then last Sunday, part of the story of Ruth. In the sequence of the Bible though, the story of Ruth comes right before First Samuel and last week’s reading ended with Ruth’s son Obed identified as the father of Jesse who was the father of David. In other words, after about six months of readings, last week brought us more or less back where we started with the lead in to the rise of David.

Today then, as we turn the page from Ruth, we’re back in First Samuel but we pick up at a point in time before the point where we started back in June which is what I thought was a little strange. Upon further review though, what I realized is that it’s not so much strange as it is clever. It’s a clever way of leading us toward Advent.

One of the main themes of Advent is that of waiting, waiting not just for Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but also waiting for Jesus’ return. What today’s reading does, even though it’s not yet Advent, is it introduces a theme of waiting from an earlier time. The opening chapters of First Samuel have to do with the people of Israel waiting for a king who would rescue them from the oppression of those lined up against them, at that point the Philistines representing the primary threat.

We know that the king they were waiting for was David but the early focus of First Samuel isn’t on David. In the Bible it sometimes takes awhile to get to the main characters, the heroes, you do have to wait; but if you pay attention along the way, there are things to learn from other characters who are part of the narrative, and that is the case in today’s readings. In both the reading from the first chapter of First Samuel and then with the psalm from the second chapter, we get a story and a response that are another example of Israel’s waiting. As is always the case, such examples are never intended as a history lesson describing one particular moment in time but they become a lens through which we look at other moments. As we move closer to Advent, Israel’s waiting then becomes our waiting; the theme does carry over.

Before we get into today’s reading though, another thing that is typical of the Bible is that the story doesn’t start in the halls of power; it’s not about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. In First Samuel, David is the main character and to be sure he does wind up in a position of power and authority and the narrative will get around to him, but it originates elsewhere. It originates with a more or less insignificant couple, Elkanah, who is a well respected and faithful man, and his wife Hannah who is barren, unable to have children. In the Bible, barren women are featured quite regularly, always symbolic of hopelessness, symbolic of no possibility of a future.

It’s a strange way to introduce a theme of waiting. Beginning with a barren woman hoping to have a child, the waiting seems like an exercise in futility; the story seems to be over before it begins. What we know though, is that in the Bible such barren hopelessness isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning as these are the very situations into which the Lord enters.

As the narrative continues, the problem of barrenness is transformed; the waiting of Hannah does end. She conceives and bears a son, Samuel, resulting in the prayer and praise of chapter 2 which was today’s psalm, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.” If those words sound familiar it’s because they are. When the angel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus, after some hesitation her response echoed the words of Hannah: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior;” so…another Advent connection.

The theme of waiting that moves from hopelessness to gift is what’s at the heart of the Samuel readings today, and it is one of the overarching and recurring themes of the Bible. What’s interesting in the story of Hannah though, is how she waits and how her waiting changes. Some of you have heard me talk in Bible studies about classifying psalms as psalms of orientation, disorientation and new orientation and I think the same scheme can be used as we consider Hannah’s waiting.

She starts in a state of disorientation. She was disoriented in her inability to have a child, disorientation made worse by her being provoked by someone identified as a rival. She is disoriented despite the faithfulness and affection and reassurance of her husband Elkanah; for Hannah that reassurance wasn’t enough. In the beginning of the narrative then, she was waiting in some combination of sadness and inadequacy, maybe some anger.

In the disorientation of her waiting though, she hadn’t completely given up; she wasn’t resigned to no future. She continued to pray to the Lord, in reality… she was bargaining with the Lord, prayer and bargaining that the priest Eli first saw as the mumbling of a drunken woman. On finding that Hannah wasn’t drunk but was clinging to a thread of prayerful hope in the Lord, Eli then offered words that moved her from disorientation to new orientation: “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”

With that, Hannah went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no more. Note that at this point, Hannah’s situation hadn’t really changed; there was still no child, really no sign of the child of her waiting. All she had was the word of Eli, a priest of the Lord, and with that word, her orientation had changed. She had moved from the disorientation of sadness and little hope, to the new orientation of expectant hope. Hannah’s waiting had changed.

The message of the gospel is about expectant hope and Eli’s words to Hannah were gospel words, gospel words that moved her from disorientation to new orientation. Newly oriented, her waiting did end; she was gifted with a son and moved to words of praise.

I think though that we can identify with Hannah’s experience of the disorientation of little or no hope and no sense of expectation. We come to church and hear gospel words proclaimed, in my case I do the proclaiming. We do cling to that thread of prayerful hope, but as we experience a world where the message too often seems to be about fear, as we hear about the latest natural disaster or mass shooting, as we wait for things to change, as we wait for the world to more resemble the kingdom of grace and healing and forgiveness envisioned by Jesus, we don’t really expect much to change. Our disorientation about the state of the world remains.

That’s why, like Hannah, we persist. We’ll come back next week and hear another version of the same gospel message we hear every week and maybe some week it clicks; it hits us that the proclamation that Christ is risen is true and because of that the world is different. In Christ, the future has been revealed. We don’t yet experience that future in its fullness so we wait. But when the truth of the gospel clicks, our waiting is different as it’s no longer waiting that expects nothing to change, but it’s waiting that expects everything to change.

It’s not Advent yet but today we do in a sense join the wider culture in pre-Advent anticipation which is pre-Christmas anticipation. Two weeks before Advent though, Hannah gives us a pretty good description of Advent waiting and Advent hope.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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