I wonder what your name means to you? Do you like your name? I never really liked mine it always seemed to date me!! All Amanda’s felt to be born in the 70s… Then I was told it meant to be loved and I quite liked that. My little boy came home from school sometime last year very grumpy: what did you go and call me Harry for? Because I liked it and your great Grandad was Harry, well you should not have called me Harry you should have called me Buster! Hmm sorry sunshine that was never in the top 5!! But maybe these stories point to something significant? Maybe how we feel about being called a particular name indicates something of the identity we feel in our naming?
How then would it feel to be nameless? The wife of Manoah and mother of Samson is just that, she is nameless. I know the story of Samson but I have to say that I don’t know this particular passage well. This nameless woman is one of very few: alongside Sarah, Hannah and Elisabeth who are declared barren and whose fertility status is reversed by God with an encounter with an angel or messenger. I wonder if my problem with the unnamed woman is that this significant person remains unnamed, the woman written out yet again, or that culturally – namelessness signals worthlessness. Hagar names God, Sarai becomes Sarah to indicate her encounter with God and yet this woman who will bear Samson is not regarded as worth naming in the story. I wonder if this is addressed within the passage itself. The angel is also nameless the woman and the messenger from God encounter each other as equals. There is a mutuality in namelessness which comes out in the passage.
What do we know about this woman who will give birth to Samson? In this passage she is depicted as the faithful one. She witnesses immediately to Manoah her encounter with God, declaring the one who has been sent by God incredibly awesome; what an incredible, exciting and joyful description of an encounter with God. In the larger Samson narrative she is presented as sage and sensible while her husband is depicted as a buffoon and Samson ends up fitting that description too.
The woman is given a strict regime through her pregnancy she shall not touch wine, strong drink or anything unclean. She does all she can and follows what she is asked to do to bear this boy – Samson – with a call on his life and yet he is flawed: a philanderer, a show off, the list goes on. The unnamed woman like all mothers can merely do what she can knowing that this man is called however unlikely by God.
The unnamed mother of Samson and Samson himself have a role in the story of God’s people they will begin to deliver God’s people. But note the word begin. This is no ta da moment Samson will be the last judge and the kings will fair no better. They are looking and waiting and looking and waiting to find the perfect leader who of course cannot exist….
In comes Mary the fulfilment of the waiting the one who will bear a son who will be Christ the King, the great leader at last, although unexpected and unrecognized, who will at last deliver the people of Israel and us all. Mary’s Magnificat is not a story of the reversal of a woman’s infertility but is linked to the unnamed woman in their being chosen to bear significant children.
Mary’s Magnificat that powerful song which is sung to Elisabeth in response to the leaping and recognition of John in his mother’s womb. A response to the excitement of Mary and Elisabeth these two chosen women who are called by God. Powerful words of a new era which will be ushered in through the birth of Jesus. A song that speaks of God’s justice and perhaps to the unnamed woman. Mary sings of a scattering of the arrogant, bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly. Mary in her generation to generation includes the unnamed woman and sings a song that would give voice to her name. We are all called the named and nameless, the worthy and unworthy, the loved and unloved.
When I worked on the acute psychiatric wards and in prisons I worked with many nameless people, some who wouldn’t share their names, some whose names had been forgotten and others who became known by their bad behaviour, terrible choices, or the intensity of their illness: lizard man, vampire man, murderer, pedophile, their personas rendering them nameless. When we are told that Jesus came to bring love to all people do we believe that these nameless men are included, is their a call from God on their lives? Those people sometimes nameless who wander into our church from the town centre, who we sometimes encounter for a moment, are we open to being blessed in our encounters with those nameless people who are loved by God too?
Our challenge this week: Will we work as God’s people to give names and voices to those Mary sang for in the powerful words of the Magnificat. Will we pay more attention to those who are anonymous, those who don’t have power? As God’s church will we name the nameless, even if we call them all beloved or blessed, give them voice and worth?
Will we see that there is a call on our lives? God calls us all to blessing whoever we are, however flawed, however broken, however hidden. None of the characters that we have explored this advent are called because of their great worth but despite there flaws, this is an incredible message of Good News. We are all loved, blessed and called to a place in God’s kingdom and ministry. Will we this advent watch and wait to what God is calling us to do, make space to be blessed and allow God’s call in all others lives however unlikely we feel it might seem?
Each and every single person is called to life and named with our risen Jesus. Will we all this advent watch for the nameless, sing the Magnificat, listen for God’s call, be open to blessing, and await his return.