Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary: Women of Faith
In the stories of Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary, we find many common themes: promises made and fulfilled; faithful responses to God’s will; songs of praise, wonder, and awe; desires revealed and realized; new life brought forth in unexpected ways. These women model for us what can happen when we trust God’s faithfulness and might as recorded in Scripture: “for nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). What can happen when we believe these words of the angel Gabriel spoken to Mary?
Hannah: Giving and Receiving
Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, describes herself in 1 Samuel 16 as a woman of “deep sorrow and misery.” While Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, has many children, Hannah is barren. Despondent, she silently pleads with the Lord in the temple for a child and promises to dedicate that child to God if given to her. Eli witnesses Hannah’s earnest prayer and assumes her to be drunk. Hannah’s response to Eli is beautiful: “I was only pouring out my heart to the LORD” (1 Sam 1:15).
When is the last time you poured your heart out to God in prayer? Have you ever? Take a few minutes to stop here and consider what desires of the heart you could pour out to God.
The Lord hears Hannah’s prayer and graces her with a son, whom she names Samuel. Hannah makes good on her promise and dedicates Samuel to God after he is weaned. Overcome with emotion at the moment of dedication, Hannah proclaims her own psalm known as “Hannah’s Song.” Echoes of the Magnificat are found throughout: “My heart exults in the LORD, my horn is exalted by my God. I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in your victory… The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes… The LORD makes poor and makes rich, humbles, and also exalts…” (1 Sam 2: 1, 5, 7)
What can we learn from Hannah and her song of praise? God flips the usual script on its head. The poor are made rich, those at the bottom rung are raised to the top. Life is brought out of a barren womb. And Hannah rejoices! She fulfills her own promise to God and gives right back to Him what she received as gift. She takes what is most precious to her and offers it to the Lord in trust and gratitude.
Elizabeth: God Does the Impossible
The story of Elizabeth and Zechariah is similar to that of Hannah: God fills the empty, barren womb, but this time at a miraculously old age. The coming of their son John is announced by an angel to Zechariah rather than Elizabeth, but when she learns of it, she says, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others” (Luke 1:25). Once again we see God promise the impossible and make good on His promise.
When Elizabeth encounters her cousin Mary during this pregnancy, she instantly recognizes God’s grace at work in her cousin. Might this be because of her increased faith in witnessing God’s miraculous power in her own life? Grace calls to grace, and Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” cries out a prophetic prayer of praise to Mary: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1: 41-45)
In these words, we see Elizabeth’s humility (“how does this happen to me?”) and an affirmation of Mary’s faith (“you believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled”). These two statements offer rich reflection opportunities. What in your life can you respond to with incredulous gratitude – how does this happen to me? What has the Lord promised to you? Did you believe Him? Do you now?
Mary: Ultimate Trust and Surrender
Mary’s story, so familiar and so near to us at Christmas, need not be recounted here. Her faith and surrender to God’s will are unparalleled. But we would do well to consider the words of her Magnificat, spoken immediately after Elizabeth’s proclamation to her at the Visitation.
She begins the same way as Hannah, praising God for His greatness: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46). And then we hear an echo of Elizabeth’s question, Why me?, in the next verses: “For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness… the Mighty One has done great things for me” (47-48). Like Hannah, Mary recognizes that God has turned the worldly order of things upside down. A poor young woman, unimportant in the eyes of her society, will be remembered by every generation. God has “lifted up the lowly” and “the hungry he has filled with good things” (52-53).
How might God be calling you to participate in putting things in “right order,” lifting up the lowly and making the kingdom of God come to life right here, right now? What work does He have for you this Christmas? Are you ready to respond as Mary did, “behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38)?
Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary, pray for us. We are inspired by your trust in the Lord. Pray that we, too, may welcome His will for our lives and follow His prompting with complete faith in His goodness. May we believe that the promises He makes will be fulfilled if we only say yes. Amen.