No media available


1 Samuel 1:4-20, 1Sam. 2:1-10, Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8

There is much in the first reading for today, Hannah’ story, to make us anywhere from uncomfortable to angry to joyful!  

Hannah despairs in not being able to have a child. Her husband, Elkanah, loves her, even though God has “closed her womb.” Elkanah’s other wife, Penninah, who has sons and daughters, torments Hanna as year after year she returns to the house of God but is still unable to have a child. Hannah is inconsolable despite Elkanah’s love. And in the scene of Hannah presenting herself once again to God in the temple, she weeps bitterly and vows that if God would grant her a male child, she would dedicate him as a nazarite for temple service. The priest, Eli, seeing Hannah deep in prayer, is cruel, accusing Hannah in her grief of being drunk. She tells Eli she is instead “a woman deeply troubled,” not drunk, “pouring out her soul” to God and to not consider her “a worthless woman,” but “speaking out of her great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Eli responds, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made.” And Hannah is sad no longer. And in time, becomes pregnant and has a son and names him, Samuel, and dedicates him to temple service. And what follows, the Psalm for today, is Hannah’s song. Hannah sings God’s praises, for the great reversal of her fortune and strength, and the humbling of the full and proud. It is a song similar to and likely the source of Mary’s song of praise to God in the great reversal of God blessing her, lifting up the lowly, and the rich and powerful sent away empty.

          Acknowledging the oppression of patriarchy in the story, and a problematic theology that sees God as closing and then opening the womb of a woman, it is a story of Hannah’s deepest longing fulfilled, a birth story of joy and strength for Hannah in her child and her vindication received from God. It is a story of joy filled new birth, new life, and singing God’s praise.

          A recent birth in our family just five weeks ago holds the joy of Hannah’s good news and song. To hold this precious child, as any and every child, as all God’s children, is joyful affirmation in God’s hope of new birth and new life, always! 

          This is the language of Jesus to his disciples outside the modern temple in Jerusalem. Jesus has just witnessed a poor widow offering all she had to the temple treasury and condemns a religious system that oppresses the most vulnerable. As Jesus leaves the temple for the final time, the disciples are in awe of this impressive structure. But Jesus, in words that are both literal and metaphorical, claims not a stone will be left standing, all will be thrown down. And whether these words were written before the destruction of the temple in 70CE or after, they are a prophecy of what happens. Jesus’ disciples ask when this will be and what will be the sign. In what is called the “little apocalypse” of Mark, Jesus speaks of many coming in Jesus’ name leading people astray; and of wars and rumours of wars, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, and famines, “but this is only the beginning of the birth pangs.” Jesus says. Oppressive structures thrown down and conflicts, struggles, pain follow, but these are birth pains, the beginning of what is being born, of new life, Jesus says.

          The word, “apocalyptic” which originally means “revealed” has come to also mean a catastrophic time, or end time, and has been used to describe this time in human history. The pandemic, the ecological crisis, human oppression in all forms, racism, sexism, genocide of Indigenous peoples, violence against sexual and gender-based minorities, human trafficking, the refugee crisis, famine, earthquakes, conflicts, and war; some see and say all of these are apocalyptic signs of the end, some even make these claims in the name of Jesus.

          The COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, the 26th conference planned to finalize the Paris Accord, concluded this week with varied responses to its results in making global commitments to reduce emissions and prevent the earth from exceeding 1.5 degrees of warming. I have not read in depth about details of the conference, hearing mainly headlines and commentaries by others – including that the largest delegation, larger than any nation with over 500 registered lobbyists, was from the fossil fuel industry; the frustrations of Indigenous leaders from across the world in the failure to recognize their rights and roles in protection of the environment and the disproportionate impacts of climate change on their peoples and lands and on the world’s poorest nations; the claims by some leaders that the Glasgow Climate Pact keeps 1.5 degrees “alive” or “in reach,” and holding out hope in a separate agreement between the United States and China, while others claim critical failures in language and commitments, including a last minute change to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal power production. The analysis of the success of the conference will continue and the value of the Pact will be seen or not in humanity’s ability to make real and effective reductions which we know have been lacking as the planet continues to warm and the impacts of climate change are felt more directly year after year, especially by those who are most vulnerable. Are these apocalyptic signs of the end or are we seeing the beginning of existing oppressive structures thrown down and the birth pains of what is to be born, of new life?

          Jesus’ apocalyptic words are literal and metaphorical, speaking of the crisis to come in his own follower’s and the Gospel writer’s and even our time, but also of Jesus’ own destruction and death, and resurrection to new life, for all humanity. According to the letter of Hebrews, it is Jesus “offering for all time a single sacrifice for sins” that gives birth to new life, that we “have confidence,” “by the new and living way that Jesus opened for us,” holding “fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for the one who has promised is faithful,” “provoking one another to love and good deeds,” and “encouraging one another,” in the hope of new life being born.

          What we have been given as followers of Jesus, is a way of seeing and trusting in God’s realizing for all time, the possibility in Jesus of new birth always! And by God’s Spirit, the hope and encouragement that the struggle and pain of this or any time, individual like Hannah’s, and the great collective pain and struggles and conflicts of the earth and all humanity,  including apocalyptic visions of the end and the throwing down of all that oppresses and kills any and all in all God’s creation, all holding the promise of being birth pains for what is about to be born by God’s grace, a birth, a child of new life and hope, to hold close without wavering, for the one who has promised is faithful, encouraging one another and provoking one another to love and good deeds for all the children of the world. 

          We watched Remembrance Day ceremonies once again from our home this year, honouring the Veterans and all who are impacted by war and conflict, and their pain and sacrifice. It is clear and heartfelt by all involved, that past and present times of war and violence, oppression and pain are apocalyptic times for them and for the world, including to throw down oppressive regimes and structures and systems. And that in honouring them, we honour the hope of their and other’s pain and sacrifice being birth pains, the promise of new birth, new life for all the world and our being provoked and encouraged and inspired to love and good deeds for this same good purpose.  

          In the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the Cenotaph in downtown Victoria, Canadian Forces Padre, the Rev Cannon Andrew Gates, gave the benediction. He said, “It is a paradox blessing, which seems fitting for us who stand here:

          May God bless you with discomfort, at easy answers, half truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live deep within your heart.

          May God bless you with anger, at injustice, oppression, exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, for equity and peace.

          May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and change their pain to joy.

          And may God bless you with foolishness, the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world, so that you may do the things that others tell you simply cannot be done. Amen.”

          A blessing of the Spirit in the birth pains of new life, by God’s grace in Christ Jesus, for all and all creation. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.