Biblical Words 
I Samuel 1:4-20; I Samuel 2:1-10;
I Samuel 1:4-20.
As this year of the Lectionary winds down, anticipations of Advent begin to appear. The story of Ruth, told in the readings of the last two Sundays, is now followed by that of her younger contemporary Hannah, in the reading from I Samuel.
The Hannah story tells of a nearly-miraculous birth and of joyful expectations concerning a coming king.
Hannah is the much-loved but barren wife who is taunted and ridiculed by the less-loved but more fertile co-wife, Peninnah. The focus of the reading is on Hannah’s desperate prayer to become a mother.
At the time of the feast, when the family
brings offerings to the temple sanctuary in
In her prayer
Hannah had vowed to dedicate her son to God as a “nazirite,” a kind of
religious warrior who abstained from intoxicating drink and from cutting of
hair (verse 11). (The birth of the hero
Samson was also announced to a barren woman and he too was required to be a
prepares for the later dedication of the boy Samuel to the service of the
I Samuel 2:1-10.
This Song of Hannah, sung when Hannah fulfilled her vow by depositing Samuel at the temple, is the psalm reading for this Sunday. The reference to the barren woman (verse 5) is the only link to Hannah within the psalm, but the larger setting of Hannah’s story in the book of Samuel makes her a prophetess, one who speaks of great things yet far off.
The Song as a whole is a hymn to the power of God who overthrows the old power relations of the social world.
The mighty are
defeated and the weak gain strength; the fat ones become day-laborers while the
hungry gain great spoil; the barren woman has seven children, the mother of
many is lonely. God “raises up the poor
from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap” (verse 8,
In the climax of the hymn (verse 10), the royal, even “messianic,” character of the Song is clear:
The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
This royal aspect of the Song anticipates the rest of I Samuel.
In this book, the struggle against the Philistines is the ever-present background to the stories of Samuel, Saul, and the rise of David. The Song is prophetic: Ultimately God will put down the Philistines and bring the Israelites to independent power – through God’s Anointed One.
The Epistle reading is the final selection this year from the Letter to the Hebrews, the final word about the great priestly work of Jesus before the Letter moves on to describe the Christian pilgrimage by faith.
emphasizes the once-for-all nature of Jesus’ sacrifice for sin. Jesus’ work is in contrast to the everyday
grunt work of an ordinary priest. The
privileged but routine work of the Aaronite priests in the
By contrast to this routine of the earthly priesthood, Jesus as priest-king has been exalted to heaven, where he is also poised to exercise dominion over earthly destructive powers (his “enemies”) promised in Psalm 110:1. (That is the psalm that speaks of the Messiah as “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” verse 4.) In this reading too the triumph of God’s faithful people is anticipated, now in terms of the foreshadowing rituals of the Tabernacle of God rather than liberation from the Philistines by an Anointed One.
This priestly form of triumph will cross the boundary between the earthly and the heavenly – and in the process give the chosen ones who belong to the Messiah access to God’s presence. They will come before God “with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (verse 22).
The accomplished heavenly sacrifice prepares for a whole new orientation to the world. Given this new orientation, the Jesus follower is now called to make pilgrimage (the topic in the rest of Hebrews).
The Gospel reading makes
explicit what the Letter to the Hebrews only implies, that an End is coming to
the earthly temple and its sacrificial practice in
At the moment of
leaving the glorious
The disciples – or at least the inner circle of the first four – are urgent to know what will follow. This leads to Jesus’ longest discourse in the Gospel According to Mark, the so-called “Markan Apocalypse.” Reading the opening of this discourse prepares for the first theme of the impending season of Advent – the anticipation of the Final Judgment.
This discourse of
Jesus is delivered as they sit on the
This was the location of the solemn departure
of David from the holy city when he was betrayed by his own son and plotted
against by enemies (II Samuel ). This was also the site from which the
triumphal entry began on Palm Sunday, moving from the
And this was the
location of the
The early stages of the time of Judgment include the appearance of false messiahs, or of false Jesuses (verse 6). How will the faithful waiting ones tell the difference? How can false messiahs be recognized?
Presumably one of
the purposes of Mark’s Gospel is to make clear what Jesus is like, to enable
followers to know the true returning Jesus when the great times of crisis
arise. All of Mark makes clear that it
is easy to misunderstand who Jesus
is and what is his work. It is easy to
misunderstand that message about the first being last, the wealthy becoming the
poor, and the real leaders being those who serve. When sitting on the
Therefore, future followers of Jesus needed to be warned that not everyone who looks like a savior really is one. This warning is the prologue to Advent!