The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews continues to use the image of the high priesthood to speak of the work of Christ. The contrast is made between the priest who stands day after day before God and Christ who is seated at God’s right hand, who has made the permanent offering.
This passage is the story of the miraculous birth of the prophet Samuel. The Book of Judges (in time, the book prior to this) has ended in chaos. “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (21:25). Here a hopeful note sounds. God intervenes in a hopeless situation, and Samuel is born, who will lead his people to the re-establishment of order and a kingdom. Note the boldness of Hannah, despite the scorn she undergoes from both her co-wife and the priest. In 1:21-22, she returns with her weaned son to the priest and gives him into the service of the Lord. The song she sings then follows, as below.
1:4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5 but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” 9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” 12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer. 19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
Hannahs’ song is the praise of one who is lifted up by God, who is a reverser of fortunes. Mary will dip into her ancestor Hannah’s song to sing her own in Luke 1.
My heart exults in you, O God; *
my triumph song is lifted in you.
My mouth derides my enemies, *
for I rejoice in your salvation.
There is none holy like you, *
nor any rock to be compared to you, our God.
Do not heap up prideful words or speak in arrogance; *
only God is knowing and weighs all actions.
The weapons of the mighty are broken, *
but the weak are clothed in strength.
Those once full now labor for bread; *
those who hungered now are well fed.
The childless woman finds her life fruitful, *
and the mother of many sits forlorn.
God destroys and brings to life, casts down and raises up; *
gives wealth or takes it away, humbles and dignifies.
God raises the poor from the dust; *
and lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with rulers *
and inherit a place of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are God’s *
on which the whole earth is founded.
God will guide the path of the faithful, *
but the wicked will languish in darkness.
For it is not by human might *
that any mortal will prevail.
The foes of God will be shattered; *
the Most High will thunder through the heavens.
The Almighty will judge the earth to its ends *
and will give strength to the ruler of God’s own choosing.
Daniel 12:1-4 is the concluding paragraph of a long apocalyptic vision that begins at Daniel 10:1. It is a vision of the future struggle of the righteous versus the faithless (a common theme of apocalyptic writing). The background is the Maccabean revolt against the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV, 167-164 b.c.e. This passage is unique in that it is only one of three Old Testament texts that directly express belief in the resurrection of the dead. Michael is one of the biblical archangels, whose name means “who is like God.” He also appears in the Book of Revelation. (The other biblical archangels are Gabriel and Raphael).
12:1 At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. 2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
Traditionally this psalm is seen as King David speaking about himself. The last three verses confess assurance that the writer will live and not die, a possible hint at resurrection. “Sheol” and “the Pit” refer to the realm of the dead, where most Jews believed everyone ended up.
1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord,
my good above all other.”.
2 All my delight is upon the godly who are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.
3 But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.
4 Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.
5 O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.
6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
7 I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.
8 I have set the Lord always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
10 For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
11 You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews continues to use the image of the high priesthood to speak of the work of Christ. The contrast is made between the priest who stands day after day before God and Christ who is seated at God’s right hand, a symbol of the permanence of his offering. This offering should give us confidence to approach God with a clean conscience, a hope to which we should hold fast. At the end there is an exhortation to keep the discipline of community.
10:11 Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
[15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” 17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.]
19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Mark 13 is sometimes called “the little apocalypse.” Its writing is very different from the rest of Mark. It reads more like Daniel or Revelation. An apocalypse is a vision of the future, a glimpse behind reality to what is “really” going on. Dramatic language and imagery are used to weave a symbolic picture. As chapter 13 begins, Jesus is leaving the Temple for the last time and predicts its destruction (which will occur in 70 c.e.). On the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple, the disciples ask him when this is to happen. He responds enigmatically, speaking about a time of crisis. But the disciples are not to despair. The crisis is also a birth.
13:1 As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
The Scripture readings (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Canticle translation is copyright © 2007 Church Publishing, Inc. The Collect of the Day is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.