Reflection on Christmas: bringing Christ's sacrifice to the world

1 Samuel 1:2-12 
  
2 Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not. 3 Every year Elkanah went from Ramah to worship and offer sacrifices to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. 4 Each time Elkanah offered his sacrifice, he would give one share of the meat to Peninnah and one share to each of her children. 5 And even though he loved Hannah very much he would give her only one share, because the Lord had kept her from having children. 6 Peninnah, her rival, would torment and humiliate her, because the Lord had kept her childless. 7 This went on year after year; whenever they went to the house of the Lord, Peninnah would upset Hannah so much that she would cry and refuse to eat anything. 8 Her husband Elkanah would ask her, "Hannah, why are you crying? Why won't you eat? Why are you always so sad? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" 9 One time, after they had finished their meal in the house of the Lord at Shiloh, Hannah got up. She was deeply distressed, and she cried bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. Meanwhile, Eli the priest was sitting in his place by the door. 11 Hannah made a solemn promise: "Lord Almighty, look at me, your servant! See my trouble and remember me! Don't forget me! If you give me a son, I promise that I will dedicate him to you for his whole life and that he will never have his hair cut." 12 Hannah continued to pray to the Lord for a long time, and Eli watched her lips.
 
 
Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. He loved Hannah deeply, but only Peninnah had borne him any children. Peninnah frequently teased Hannah about this, and Hannah was often too sad even to eat. Elkanah would give her double portions and asked her, “Is not my love enough for you?” But Hannah turned to the Lord to request a son. In return, if the Lord sees fit to answer her prayer with a son, she promises to dedicate him wholly to the service of the Lord. Hannah sacrifices her own flesh-and-blood, her own son, in gratitude for the gift of a prayer answered.
 
The Psalms sometimes express a horrifying agony of people seriously oppressed by an enemy. See Psalm 137:7-9, or even the more gracious Psalm 63:10-11 (NAB). St John Chrysostom reminds us that we have only one Enemy. Our adversary is never any of the human persons seated here or whom we meet at work or on the road, as much as we sometimes think they are our enemy. Our adversary is the evil one whose children include all of our sins.
 
We do not see Hannah seeking revenge on Peninnah or worse on her children; Hannah does not speak rudely to the rude priest Eli who accuses her of drunkenness in her fervent, quiet prayer. Scripture tells of Hannah's heartbreak, but not the temptations she may have felt – that we would definitely feel in her place: to defend, to justify ourselves, to use any means to protect ourselves against injustice and hurtful acts. Sorrow, anger, and depression worked on Hannah's heart, but she turned to God in prayer, and in presenting Samuel to the Lord, she glorified God in words similar to those of Mary that we heard in today's Gospel.
 
In many ways, Samuel is a figure pointing us to Jesus Christ, and we do well to read and remember his story from the beginning of the first book of Samuel.
 
It takes a certain humility and gentle strength (is this true meekness?) to offer oneself, to entrust oneself even to someone who has hurt you. Just as Jacob treating Joseph as his favorite son tempted his other sons to destroy him, so Elkanah giving his favorite wife Hannah a double portion of everything tempted Peninnah to treat her poorly. Yet both Joseph and Hannah generously offer themselves, their presence, their flesh-and-blood even to their persecutors: Joseph, in service to Pharaoh; Hannah, to the rude priest Eli.
 
What kind of brother or sister are we to those we see every day? How can we be more like Hannah, like Jesus: gracious among those who persecute and threaten us, those who are rude and unkind?
 
Our reading from Hebrews reminds us that the sacrifices prescribed by the Law are not what the Lord ultimately seeks from us. For the Jews, there were many types of temple sacrifices: for guilt and sin, thanksgiving, and so forth. But the offering of flour or sacrifice of an animal was insufficient. Hebrews stresses this: if these sacrifices really worked, they would not need to be offered time and again.
 
But Jesus offers the Everlasting Sacrifice. We who are members of his Body now share in this sacrifice. How do we bring the offering of this sacrifice to various places? Where is the suffering in our lives, among those we know as well? Who are we willing to dwell among (only “our kind” or only those who are kind to us?
 
We remember that Jesus called us “blessed” when we are persecuted because of the good that we do, because we follow him. Like Hannah, we may be called to be sorrowful but peace-able around those who are rude and cruel. Like Joseph, we may be called to be upright and honest even when we know we will suffer for it. Like Mary, we may have to stand at the foot of the cross, to simply be present, though unable to protect or rescue or heal. Like Jesus, we know that suffering is either already here or just around the corner, because we call our offering of our own selves a “sacrifice.” This sacrifice starts and is fed by our “sacrifice of praise” but that eventually becomes the offering of our whole life. Even the process of being drawn together as Church brings with it much sacrifice.
 
When at the Divine Liturgy, the priest breaks the “lamb,” the large portion of bread that has become the Body of Christ, he says:
 
Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God, broken yet not divided, ever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake thereof.
 
In the Roman Church, they refer to the “oblation” of the Church, a choice of word that reminds me always of the complete offering of ourselves to God. We partake of the holy bread, but we do not consume it wholly. Instead, we find that, offering ourselves to God in this meal, we are consumed by Jesus Christ. He takes over and we are able to become members of his Body, dedicated to presenting Jesus Christ and His message through the way we live and the attitude we cultivate (or we allow God to cultivate) in our hearts.
 
Let us rejoice, then, with Mary, in sharing this sacrifice of the Son of God who chose to dwell among us while we were still sinners, knowing what we would do to him. Let our souls and our lives magnify the Lord, proclaiming his greatness, recognizing the great things the Lord has done for us, his mercy from age to age, his promise and his faithfulness through all time.
 
The above was preached by Fr Jerome Wolbert OFM at the annual Emmanuel Moleben, a prayer service to help us prepare for the feast of the Nativity, at Holy Dormition Chapel, Sybertsville, Pennsylvania, reflecting on 1 Samuel 1:24-28, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:46-56.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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