We have heard Hannah’s wonderful song of praise and joy. She takes what God has done for her and she links it to all the things God does for his people.
God, Hannah says, disarms the warriors and strengthens the weak; he casts down the rich and fills the hungry; hallelujah, he brings fertility to the childless. God kills but he also raises up; poverty and wealth, high status and low, come from God; he lifts up the destitute and seats them with princes. All of this comes from God, because he is the creator and he will take care of the faithful and confound the wicked. It is not by strength, says Hannah, that one prevails, it is through the grace of God. He will thunder from heaven and he will judge the ends of the earth. His anointed king will be exalted. Praise the Lord.
Hannah’s story is a little like that of Rachel, about whom I spoke here last week. She is a much loved wife mocked by her fruitful rival. God hears her plea, in Hannah’s case a heartfelt and silent prayer at the sanctuary at Shiloh, and he grants her the gift she asks for, a child, six children. Her story is a happier one than Rachel’s, though. Her first-born, Samuel, like Rachel’s first-born Joseph, becomes the leader and saviour of the people of Israel, but unlike Rachel Hanah lives to see her children grow and prosper.
It is appropriate, then, that her great hymn of thanksgiving is picked up and echoed, quoted, by Mary, the mother of Jesus, in her song of thanksgiving, the Magnificat, early in Luke’s gospel.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
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 mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Mary, pregnant with Jesus, sings out her happiness, her joy, her adoration of God. Like Hannah she points both to his goodness to her and to his goodness to Israel, his people. Like Hannah she rejoices in God’s great reversals: his scattering of the proud, his bringing how of the mighty from their thrones, his exalting of the humble and his filling of the hungry. God has kept his promises, he has done mighty deeds.
From Hannah’s son, Samuel, comes the classic pattern of God’s representatives to his people Israel. Samuel, trained as a priest becomes a prophet and helps restore the priesthood to its proper order by fighting its corruption. Through Samuel Israel’s first king is chosen and anointed, David, with whom God would enter into a special covenant. After this there will be two family lines, the priestly line of Aaron and the royal line of David appointed to their proper roles in the holy people and there will be a line of prophets, not descended by blood but directly inspired by God’s Spirit.
The kings will be God’s instrument in worldly matters, doing justice with and protecting without. The priests will be those who bring the gifts and worship of the people to God in the rites of sacrifice and who will teach the divine Law.
The prophets will be the conscience of the nation, bring words of warning and instruction directly from the Lord when things go wrong.
And then in Jesus all of this will, after hundreds of years and many diversions and missteps, be brought to its glorious and astonishing climax. God himself will come as the king, the one anointed, the Messiah, to use the Hebrew term for the anointed one, the Christ, to use the Greek word. This king will not work alongside a priestly order. He will be in one the great high priest and also the sacrifice that priest makes. This king won’t need the warnings or advice of any prophets, he will himself be the promised prophet like Moses.
What’s more this king, priest and prophet, won’t merely announce the future coming of the day of the Lord when all the nations will come to hear God’s Law. He will announce that the day has come. His apostles will not only reform and re-found Israel with restored monarchy, Temple and prophetic witness, they will reach beyond historic Israel to a new community of all the nations. In Jesus and his Church God will break free of the Temple, of family descent, of all restrictions. In Jesus all will be embraced.
No wonder Mary’s song soars! No wonder she magnifies the Lord! No wonder she says God has done great things for her!
In her son a new covenant has come into being. In her son God himself has come meet and save us. In her son we are offered new birth into new family, a family with God at its head and God’s son as our brother.
Through Sarah, through Rebecca, through Rachel, through Hannah, the continuity of God’s promise to Abraham was maintained. Through Mary it was made new and is made with us. Praise the Lord, Christ is risen and we are members of the new covenant people.