The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he 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.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and on them he has set the world.
(1 Samuel 2)
I find myself disappointed as Advent once again nears its end. This year I am particularly sad to see it go, as I find that the added gift of pregnancy in this season has made it a richly contemplative and fruitful season.
But Advent is meant to pass. Our waiting does not last forever. Advent ends with a gift: the greatest gift given to this world. Advent is a story of waiting, but it is also a story of gifts given.
I was struck this week considering the gift given to Mary—a beautiful gift that she rejoices over, but a gift that required the greatest sacrifice. A gift to the world that required the Gift to walk the road to the cross.
In the Old Testament, this gift and subsequent sacrifice is foreshadowed in the story of Hannah, a barren woman who asked the Lord for a son. Even the parallel between Hannah’s prayer, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes,” and the words of the angel to Mary “You have found favor with God,” makes the story of Hannah and Samuel an Advent story. In response to this gift given, Hannah gives her son back to the Lord.
Mary, too, receives a gift from the Lord: God Himself dwelling within her. Yet she is asked to give her son back to the Lord. In a way her sacrifice was deeper than Hannah’s and greater, but these women were both given the gift of children and they responded by offering their gifts back to God. Hannah gave of time with her son, of his childhood spent together, for the sake of the Lord’s house and ministry (1 Samuel 2). Mary gave of her son at the foot of the cross, and even from his earliest age when she received Simeon’s blessing that spoke of this coming sacrifice: “A sword will pierce through your own soul.”
Hannah and Mary both respond to gift in song. Hannah’s own magnificat is a song of thanksgiving that comes after she gives her son to the Lord. I was struck by the order that these appear in 1 Samuel: Hannah receives the gift of a son, offers him back to the Lord, and then responds in thanksgiving and praise. Her praise comes after the giving of her son. It seems a bit out of order.
This cycle of gift and offering the gift back struck me this week. I wonder if sometimes we forget that gifts are meant to be offered back to the Lord. Marriage is a gift; it is to be offered back to the Lord in service and love. Children are a gift; they are to be given back in recognition that they belong to Him. Our very life and breath is a gift, meant to be given back as an offering to the Lord. This offering back takes different forms, but it requires a posture of the heart that Hannah and Mary both reveal to us. Hannah and Mary teach us that in offering a gift back to the Lord, we receive deep joy that overflows in thanksgiving.
I wonder if God waits for us to not only recognize the gifts given, but to return them to Him in sacrifice and praise. Perhaps joy that comes in receiving a gift is made full only upon our return of this gift back to God.
When I worry about my little baby and all of the things that could possibly go wrong, I think of Mary and the gift she offered back to the Lord. Surely I can join her act of sacrifice, recognizing that in my offering of this baby back to the Lord for the sake of His kingdom, I am in some small way joining in the greatest act of sacrifice: the salvific act of Gift given for the sake of the world.
With Hannah and Mary, we are given the chance to recognize the gifts given to us, and to return them with thanksgiving to the Giver of all things. Hannah gave her son to serve the Lord in His Temple. Mary gave her son to redeem the world from sin. And so we, too, can join them in offering the many gifts given to us for the sake of the the kingdom of heaven.