May 30, 2018 - The Eve of the Visitation of the BVM
Some say that seeing is believing, but the story of salvation recorded for us in scripture suggests that believing is seeing. When you look around, what do you see? If you're a teacher at Banks-Caddell Elementary School, where most students receive a free or reduced lunch and many go home to parents who do not speak or read English, what do you see? If you're one of our volunteers at the CCC who helps provide a free meal to those who need it and you see the same faces in the line week after week, what do you see? If you're a tutor at the NCC who tries to show inmates how to develop the kind of job skills that will get them off the street and break the cycle of poverty, drug use, and incarceration only to see their mug shots in the newspaper a few weeks later, what do you see? When God walks past those classrooms, stands in that line, or sits with that inmate, what does God see?
Hannah was barren. The beloved wife of Elkanah, she was unable to give her husband any children. Her rival wife Peninnah had given birth to several children, but, no matter how hard they tried, Hannah and her husband could not get pregnant. The rival teased her to no end, but Elkanah looked favorably on his beloved, giving her a double-portion. Hannah agonized over this, so she went to the temple and prayed. She begged the Lord to give her a son, promising that she would dedicate the child to God. When Eli the priest saw her praying, he thought she was a drunk woman because her lips were moving but no sound was coming out. When she admitted the depths of her "vexation and anxiety," Eli accepted her prayer and asked the Lord to fulfill it. From that moment on, Hannah "was sad no longer." She went home with her husband, trusting that God would provide for her. In time, she gave birth to a son and, when he had been weened, she brought him to the temple and gave him to Eli so that the boy could grow up in the Lord's service.
Mary was a virgin. Betrothed to Joseph, still not quite old enough to marry, the virgin was visited by the angel Gabriel. She had lived a quiet, faithful life, serving the Lord in her own way, but God had something else in mind. The angel proclaimed that she would give birth to a son and name him Jesus, that he would grow up to be the Son of the Most High and reign over God's people on David's throne. The impossibility of that announcement was two-fold. One the one hand, she was a virgin. She was engaged but faithful. The time for her to have children had not yet come. And just as inconceivable was the promised future of her son. How could anyone reign over God's people as long as Rome was in power? King Herod's rule was a mockery of David's throne, a puppet-monarch on a paper throne. When the angel explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and conceive in her the child, Mary believed it was possible. "Let it be with me according to you word," she said. And her great yes, spoken in faith, set in motion the salvation God would bring into the world.
Both women were able to see what the world could not see. In the midst of struggle and weakness, they beheld God's great power, unfolding all around them. What no one else could see, they saw through the eyes of faith.
Listen to the songs that those women sing:
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
His mercy is for those who fear himThis isn't Pollyanna. This isn't blind optimism. This is confidence in the Lord, the one who for all time lifts up the downtrodden and pulls down the haughty. What does it mean to behold the poverty, the weakness, the addiction, the homelessness, the struggle of this life and see a pregnant situation, yearning to give birth to God's salvation? As long as we travel to those places of struggle and offer moments of assistance to those in need and pray repeatedly that God would help in intractable moments, we will not see what Mary and Hannah see. If we are to see what God sees, we cannot travel, help, and pray. We must inhabit those moments, those lives, those struggles. If we believe what Hannah and Mary believe, we would not write checks, serve meals, and teach classes. If we see what they see, we would run to those people and places and proclaim God's transformation breaking through. We would embrace them as our own hope. We would recognize them as the place to go and search for salvation.
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." Indeed, blessed are those whose belief opens their eyes to see what God sees. God grant us the faith and confidence of Mary and Hannah until we see the world through God's own eyes.