Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Homily for December 22nd, 2016: 1 Samuel 1:24-21: 24-28; Luke 1:46-56.

          Hannah, who appears in our first reading, is one of many women in the Old Testament who suffer for years because of their inability conceive a child. Accompanying her husband Elkanah on one of his annual visits to the sanctuary at Shiloh, Hannah prays for a child with such intensity and fervor that Eli, the priest on duty there, thinking she must be drunk, rebukes her and tells her to sober up.

          I’m not drunk, Hannah replies; “I was only pouring out my troubles to the Lord.” Reassured, Eli sends her on her way with the prayer: “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” God answers this prayer, giving Hannah a son, Samuel, who would be the first of Israel’s prophets. On her next visit to Shiloh, Hannah thanks God, praising him in the words we prayed together as the responsorial psalm. She praises God who lifts up the poor, while humbling the rich and powerful.

          Mary’s words in the gospel, praising God for making her the mother of his Son, echo these words of Hannah: “My spirit rejoices in God my savior… He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

          Some three decades later Mary’s Son would speak words remarkably similar to those spoken by both his mother, and Hannah. We call them the Beatitudes, because each is introduced by the Greek word makarios, which means “blessed” or “happy.” The Beatitudes proclaim the reversal of all earthly values. Where worldly society says: “Blessed are the rich,” Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  Society says, “Blessed are those who know how to live it up and have fun.” Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Where society says it is the powerful who are blessed, Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek.” And when Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,” society says: “Be sure you get a good lawyer.” 

Jesus wants us to use the Beatitudes as a mirror; to ask ourselves, ‘Am I poor in spirit? Am I humble and merciful? Am I pure of heart? Do I hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness? Am I a peacemaker, or do I contribute to conflict through gossip, cynicism, and hate?’

Think about those questions, friends, and pray about them. Doing so is the best possible preparation for Christmas.