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An Old Testament Christmas

With Christmas just past, we are reminded that the event of the birth of God’s Son was surrounded by prayers and songs—especially songs of praise. The choir of holy angels over a Bethlehem field was preceded by Mary’s Magnificat and Zacharias’s Benedictus, and followed by Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis. All thanked and glorified God for filling a great need, a Savior for rebellious and loveless mankind.

The first Christmas was, of course, not the second. But there was a birth in the Old Testament that in several ways prefigured the Christmas account. It involved a woman named Hannah and her son Samuel.

As one reads their story (1 Samuel 1-2), it is clear that Hannah started out a most unhappy wife, with a distressing problem and personal need: she was childless in an age when children were highly valued. Not only that, but her rival—her husband’s other wife—had been blessed with numerous children and took great pleasure in rubbing that fact in Hannah’s face. The worst times were the festival days, or holiday season. Her husband loved her, but that was not enough to quell her sadness.

And so Hannah prayed that God would reach down, open her womb, and give her a child. But even her godly prayer caused her some humiliation, just as Mary centuries later may have suffered public embarrassment because of her pregnancy. For as Hannah silently moved her lips in prayer, Eli the priest concluded she was drunk, and he rebuked her.

Even as Hannah had a personal need, let us assume she also recognized an even greater need. For she lived in a time when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Men faithful to God’s Word and promises were needed. And so Hannah made a vow. If God would give her a son, she would dedicate that same son to the Lord in special service. Who can doubt this is just what God wanted to hear?

In the fullness of time, a son was born to Hannah. Her song of rejoicing seemed to serve as the template for Mary’s own Magnificat centuries later. At the appropriate age, Samuel was dedicated to the Lord under the care of Eli the priest, and there he “continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men” (1 Samuel 2:26 NIV). Almost the exact words were applied to Jesus centuries later. Thus began years of service for Samuel—a prophet of God great in his faithfulness. In his own way, Samuel was a savior to his people, an instrument of blessing, bringing them God’s word and calling them back to godly obedience.

How shall we keep on celebrating a Hannah/Samuel Christmas? Are you childless and want children? Pray, for “children are a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3), with whom nothing is impossible. Do you suffer from the “holiday blues?” Be a Hannah and rejoice in the Lord’s salvation. “For He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap”  (1 Samuel 2:8). Do you recognize our modern situation, in which so many are again doing what is right in their own eyes? Pray that the terrible scourge of abortion be given its own death needle. Dedicate your children to God and, as possible, steer them to service in the Lord’s kingdom. As you teach them, pray that they grow in wisdom and favor with God and men, that they be saviors in their own right, bringing many to Christ by Gospel Word and godly example. And like Hannah and Mary, don’t forget your own kingdom service, perhaps even writing—but especially living—your own song of praise. For the Lord is to be greatly magnified by His people. In Christ Jesus He has saved us and “makes us inherit the throne of glory” (1 Samuel 2:8).

David Fuerstenau is pastor of Holy Truth Lutheran Church in Ketchikan, Alaska.