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What's God up to in Ordinary Time?

By H. Mark Abbott

In the ancient world, infertility was about the worst thing that could happen in a woman's life. Elkanah's other wife, would needle and taunt Hannah about not having conceived and born children. When Hannah wept and would not eat, Elkanah tried to comfort her. But, like many of us men, Elkanah wasn't very successful in comforting Hannah. Elkanah was logical, rational, and he wanted to fix Hannah's sadness. It doesn't take Dr. Phil to tell us this method of operation doesn't work very well!

Says the story, "This went on year after year." This sad scenario wasn't just played out once. It was the way things were. Her infertility was the routine of Hannah's life. Having her infertility thrown in her face was the routine of Hannah's life. It was all "ordinary time," for Hannah.

Does that sound like anything we experience? Sometimes it feels like we're in 'ordinary time' while other folks are celebrating and in festive time. That makes our 'ordinary time' particularly hard to bear. Isn't it hard to deal with the festivities of the Christmas season when our own life is not festive? Isn't it hard to celebrate the birth of someone else's baby when you have not been able to have a child? Isn't hard for some of us to celebrate the successes of others when your own life is so ordinary, so humdrum?

But one year, says the story, the family of Elkanah finished their annual festival meal at Shiloh. This time, Hannah couldn't take any more of the festivities. She got up from the family meal and went into the sanctuary, the worship center, and there poured out her heart to God. "In bitterness of soul, Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord . . . And she made a vow, 'O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life . . ."'

This was very serious praying, so serious that the old high priest seated nearby thought maybe she was drunk. Eli chided the distraught woman for having had too much to drink. "Ah no!" responded Hannah. "I am a deeply troubled woman . . . I was pouring out my soul to the Lord — I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."

And Pastor Eli responded to Hannah: "Go in peace and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."

Ordinary time was over for Hannah! She conceived and gave birth to a son. She named this little boy "Shamuel," God has heard. And Hannah praised God in a wonderful prayer similar in sound to the great prayer of Mary, mother of Jesus.

"My heart rejoices in the Lord . . ." Hannah sang. Read it in 1 Samuel 2.

Hannah, once infertile, over time had three more sons and two more daughters. For maybe three years, Hannah did not go on the annual trip to Shiloh, but stayed home and cared for little Samuel. But when the little boy was weaned, Hannah made good on her promise to God. Taking little Samuel to Shiloh, Hannah and Elkanah offered sacrifice and left Samuel under the care and guidance of high priest Eli.

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