Many of us are still getting used to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), especially some of the Old Testament selections that set up as didactic lesson plans instead of sermon inspiration, and some instances of tone deafness toward the melodies of the liturgical church year.
But I've liked the Old Testament readings for the last couple of Sundays, which stir up my anticipation for Advent, that great beginning of the liturgical church year and celebration of, well, anticipation. Advent looks back to the long wait for the Savior's birth, and ahead to his coming again. The recent readings about Ruth and Hannah catch themes of seeking, waiting, struggling and finally rejoicing.
Ruth's story is of an outsider who becomes one of God's chosen people, and more than that, the unexpected contributor to a royal bloodline and, from Christian understanding, the fulfillment of God's promises to send the Savior into the world (Matthew 1:5).
Hannah struggles with infertility, derision and misery until God, in answer to her besieging prayer, gives her power to conceive. Her firstborn is the prophet Samuel. Samuel anoints the great King David, pointing ahead to John the Baptist announcing the coming (advent) of the Messiah (anointed one, Christos) and baptizing him to launch his earthly ministry.
I like that the RCL, in place of the usual Psalm, uses Hannah's own song of praise as a response to the lesson. Hannah's song is the obvious inspiration from which young Mary, pregnant with the Son of God, drew her words of praise that we call The Magnificat.
Pregnancy is the fundamental human experience of anticipation. It is prolonged, uncomfortable and disorienting, but at the same time it imparts hope, joy and brings people together in preparation and celebration. Great pain precedes great joy - as Jesus himself would say:
When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:21-22)
So I like these final lessons of this RCL year - the first intuition that "something's different" before Advent tells us that "the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now" (Romans 8:22). May our groaning give way to joy, as we celebrate the life of Christ at work in us now and preparing us for the new life to come.