A Service on 6th December 2020 for Advent led by Mrs Anne Wilde a Lay Preacher in the Didsbury area.
In the beginning God allowed for chaos, for troubled dreams, and uncertain sounds, and fear in the darkness.
Then, when the chaos was most threatening and hope was bleakest, God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.
So, remember the chaos, the uncertainty.
The confusion in which you once floundered, and give thanks for the light.
In the course of time, God allowed for a journey from ourselves to other people, from restriction to freedom, from a forgotten place to a promised land.
And when the journey was hardest, and the way ahead unclear, and the temptation to turn back most alluring,
God said, Let there be light’ and there was light.
So, remember your journey and how far you have travelled, and give thanks for the light.
Later yet, God allowed for the special: for friendship to grow, for truth to be discovered, for faith to become real.
On the mountain top and in quiet places, God blessed us, saying, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.
So, remember not why, but how and when and where you’ve been blessed,
and give thanks for the light.
And then, when the light was brightest, and life was good, despite our better judgement, but in solidarity with all humankind,
we chased shadows, and chose darkness.
So, remember how and when and where and perhaps why you have wandered from the light.
Because God loves us, there will be light again.
Not first in chaos, nor first on the journey, not first for the special place, but on the ground and in a hidden place, God will come, offering a baby’s hand, to greet us.
Lord Jesus Christ, who chose Bethlehem, to meet us, make us ready to lose and leave all that makes us proud and sufficient.
Let our knees bend to you, our heart cradle you, our lips sing you songs of love. Amen
Hymn. ‘Thou, whose almighty word’ read or sing:
Thou, whose almighty word
chaos and darkness heard,
and took their flight;
hear us, we humbly pray,
and, where the Gospel day
sheds not its glorious ray,
let there be light!
Thou who didst come to bring
on thy redeeming wing
healing and sight,
heal to the sick in mind,
sight to the in-ly blind,
now to all humankind,
let there be light!
Spirit of truth and love,
life-giving holy Dove,
speed forth thy flight!
Move on the waters’ face
bearing the gifts of grace,
and, in earth’s darkest place,
let there be light!
Holy and blessèd Three,
Wisdom, Love, Might;
boundless as ocean’s tide,
rolling in fullest pride,
through the world far and wide,
let there be light!
Reading: 1 Samuel 1: selected verses.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there lived a man whose name was Elkanah. In those days it was the fashion for a man to have more than one wife and Elkanah had two; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but poor Hannah had none, and this made her very, very sad.
Every year, at festival time, Elkanah would take his family to a place called Shiloh, where they would worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty.
This was a great time for celebration and feasting and during their special meal Elkanah would give one portion of the meat to his wife Peninnah and one portion each of his children. But he always gave Hannah twice as much because he loved her dearly, and he felt so sorry that she could not have children. But Peninnah, his other wife did not feel sorry for poor Hannah, instead she would tease and bully her. This went on year after year until eventually Hannah found that she couldn’t stop crying and stopped eating.
Elkanah asked her why she was behaving in such a way.
‘Don’t get so upset’ he said. Don’t I mean more to you than ten children?’ But Hannah couldn’t be comforted.
She knew she couldn’t carry on this way so she decided to do something about it. She got up and went into the Temple. There Hannah began to pray and she made a vow, saying, ‘O LORD, if you will only look upon my misery and remember me, and give me a son, then I promise that I will give him to back to you and he will serve you all his life.’
Now it so happened that Eli the Priest was watching her and because she was in such a state, he decided that she was drunk and he began to tell her off. But when Hannah had told him told him all her troubles.
Eli said, ‘Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.’
Straight away Hannah began to feel better and in time Hannah conceived a baby and gave birth to a son.
She named him Samuel, and when Samuel was old enough she took him to the Temple at Shiloh, and she said to Eli, ‘I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked. So now I give him to the LORD.’
And Samuel lived happily in the Temple at Shiloh, and Hannah often went there to visit him because she loved him so much.
My name is Hannah and I have come to tell you my story. I was betrothed to Elkanah when I was just 15 and married exactly a year later. Elkanah was kind and gentle and his was a good and prosperous family, so we were very comfortable living as part of the extended family. Life was good and I soon settled into married life.
The women’s tent was always full of children. Soon I became part of the team giving help and support during the many births. There were big babies with loud cries and tiny fragile babies with feeble cries each bringing happiness and hope to the wider family. I dreamt of the time when it would be my turn to stand on bricks, surrounded by my sisters, giving birth to Elkanah’s son.
About a year after our wedding I discovered that I was pregnant. Elkanah was beside himself with joy whilst I was weepy and anxious although I didn’t know why. Then one morning in early spring I felt a searing pain, saw the blood and the baby was lost. My sisters were kind and although Elkanah was disappointed and sad he tried to comfort me, but I found it very, very hard.
Each time it got harder. Nine, all born well before their time, all lost.
Elkanah waited for about six years before he announced that he needed strong, healthy sons, to help in the fields and carry on the family tradition, so he intended to take another wife. He was keen to assure me that I would always have the status of First Wife, but he would take another. I knew I had to accept it, I had no choice, I had been half expecting it to happen. Men took many wives, it was their privilege, their right. Prosperous men had lots of wives and children, large flocks, lots of land. All their possessions, and we were their possessions too, all signs of prosperity and honour.
So Elkanah took Peninnah – younger than I, strong, well built with childbearing hips! We never got on. Peninnah begrudged my First Wife status, I viewed her as my replacement. Both of us knew that this was Elkanah’s right, our feelings didn’t count. Looking into her eyes I saw failure. Peninnah had come to do, to be what I could not do, could not be – a proper woman, a mother.
Penninah bore many children for Elkanah and with each baby her status grew whilst mine diminished, until eventually Peninnah took precedence over me in everything. Each lost baby confronted me with my worthless failure and my hope grew less with each passing month. After every new arrival for Peninnah, Elkanah came to me, always sorry that she had been afforded more privileges. Promising he would give her no more, assuring me he loved me best. His words proved worthless when not backed up with actions. How soon he forgot his promises in the light of day.
I felt alone and worthless and it was my own fault. Peninnah was doing what was expected of her, she wasn’t to blame because I couldn’t have child. It was no surprise that I couldn’t hold on to Elkanah’s affections, or carry the responsibility of First Wife. I was becoming hopeless, a useless wreck, my situation was spiralling out of control.
Then I discovered something I could control – my punishment. It felt good to make myself suffer for worthlessness and failure when I stopped eating… I grew thinner and weaker, and out of in control. Today you would say I became anorexic.
When we travelled to Shiloh for the Festival, I was so weak I could barely make the journey, everyone noticed my state. Elkanah tried to help, he kept offering me extra portions, the sweetest dishes to tempt and encourage me to eat. But too little, too late Elkanah! My problems were not solved so easily. He hadn’t the remotest idea of how he abused me, how he was destroying me by giving in to Peninnah’s demands and always choosing her over me. He had turned me into the empty hopeless shell I had become.
Feelings of revulsion overwhelmed me, grief, depression, hopelessness seemed to cover me. In that moment I became every woman who ever lived under an oppressive culture, or the demands of unreasonable men, unable to express themselves, unable to be free to achieve their potential, their true worth. Any light that was still in my life went out, I was in complete darkness, darkness of mind, darkness of spirit.
At the Temple, I fell to ground, all my despair, hatred, hurt, self-loathing, emptiness and worthlessness poured out in presence of Lord. Then with nothing let inside, and exhausted, I dared to ask the Lord Almighty for the gift of a son. If I had to live in a man’s world, a husband’s world, then my only future, my only hope was a son.
Had I been less exhausted, less empty, the old priest would have finished me off. Yet another man, misjudging me from his ivory tower of misconception, accusing me of drunkenness. With nothing to lose I dared to defend myself, to tell it like it really was. Then he changed he became gracious, didn’t treat me as an overwrought emotional but basically worthless woman. Here, was a man who listened, accepted my anguish, gave me worth, encouraged my hope adding his prayer to mine.
Our family couldn’t understand the change in me, I couldn’t explain it, it sounded so trite. I had met God, in the temple, in that priest. God had heard and valued me, now even without comprehension I had hope.
By Samuel’s birth, I no longer cared about my status in the family, or my survival in this patriarchal society. All that mattered was my God had blessed me, had acted on my behalf. He had lifted me up, given me status, not because of the children I could produce, but for myself. Holding my son, I knew my hope, future, and joy would be found in handing Samuel to his Father, to serve and honour him. This I did, I handed him to God, for my God had become my true husband and I his one true love. I discovered in his sight that I was more than a baby machine, I had the gift of prayer, I had a ministry. From then on, I spent time praying for women, like the one I had been, women trapped, without hope in a world that imprisons them.
Prayer of Confession.
For not hearing the cries of the abused and not seeing the needs of the abuser
For not hearing the cries of modern-day slaves and FGM sufferers and not seeing opportunities to help
Lord have mercy.
For not hearing the cries of the downtrodden and not seeing how the world can change
For not hearing the cries of the frustrated and not seeing new directions
Lord have mercy.
For not hearing the cries of those challenged by Coronavirus in ways we are not,
For not hearing the cries of those desperately trying to make the right decisions or meet the desperate need
Lord have mercy.
For not hearing the cries of challenge and not seeing the restrictions of our own comfort zone.
For failing in so many ways…………………
Take time to be still before God.
Lord have mercy.
God, our hope and our desire, we wait for your coming as a woman longs for the birth, the exile for her home, the lover for the touch of his beloved, and the humble poor for justice.
And as we wait, we hold on to the promise that:
All the broken hearts shall rejoice,
All those who are heavy laden, whose eyes are tired and do not see,
Shall be lifted up to meet with the motherly healer.
The battered souls and bodies shall be healed; the hungry fed; the imprisoned set free;
All her earthly children shall regain joy in the reign of the just and loving one
coming for each of us in this time in this world. Amen
Hymn ‘Come, thou long-expected Jesus’
1. Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
2. Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Intercessory Prayer: Let us bring before God:
The abused and their abusers.
The victims of female genital mutilation and those who work to help them.
Everyone damaged or devastated by Coronavirus and all Key Workers.
The downtrodden and those working for change.
The frustrated and those who block their way.
Those who challenge and those who refuse to leave their comfort zone.
And our own needs.
As we pray we remember that although the light may alter from day to night: The seasons may change and people come and go, God will come to be with his world. To shine and show us the way.
Take time to lift your prayers to God.
God our Creator, your image is so beautiful.
It may vary from child to mother, from grandfather to grandchild, but it is your image.
We pray that we might see the same beautiful images in others.
Help us to grow beyond our own prejudices of gender injustice, of hatred and abuse.
Help us to appreciate our differences so the we might affirm each other.
Mould us into your image, we pray. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Go with the God of compassion, Go with Immanuel, the God with us.
Go with the Comforter, the Spirit of power and fire.
Go forth to liberate creation from oppression. Go forth to heal and comfort God’s people. Amen