Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
The angel of the LORD also said to her:
‘You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the LORD has heard of your misery.
He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
towards all his brothers.’
She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’
There are always tricky ones. Hagar’s story is a tricky one, partly because it is one many of us know well – familiarity can blind us to what’s going on. Sarai cannot have children and so gives Abram her female slave, Hagar, so a child can be conceived and borne. Because we know this story well, we might overlook Hagar. She is a woman enslaved in a patriarchal society with no rights, no inheritance, and no status. She is passed from Sarai to Abram, effectively as a sex-slave for the sole purpose of reproduction.
Within the confines of Sarai and Abram’s home, Hagar has no name and no voice. Aside from the narrator, she is not addressed by name until the angel speaks to her in the wilderness. She does not speak herself until questioned by this angel. Sarai’s situation must have been desperate for her to willingly give another woman to her husband to mother a child. But Sarai had agency, power, and voice, while Hagar had none.
And so, Hagar flees to the wilderness and the angel of the Lord comes to her with words of promise. Hagar is the first woman in the Bible to receive an annunciation: an announcement concerning the baby she was carrying. This begins a series of annunciations, promising children of significance in God’s story of salvation. Despite her pregnancy’s less than ideal beginnings, Hagar is seen, known, and given a voice. The story doesn’t end there for Hagar, but at this moment in the wilderness she knows God’s care.
Pregnancy and childbirth will always include tricky ones. The ones with difficult relationships, the ones with painful beginnings, middles, or ends, the ones with anxiety or shame or grief. There are other ‘tricky ones’ on our frontlines: a difficult relationship at home, a bullying colleague in the office, a structure that perpetuates systemic injustice.
Amidst all these tricky ones perhaps it is our task to remember names and listen to voices. As we do so, we are reminded of an individual’s humanity and their identity as an image-bearer of God. As we make space to listen, we hear the voices that have been forgotten or overlooked, perhaps for decades. All this, so that God may use our voices, silences, and presence to share his love, nurture, and care with those we meet.
Imogen is a curate in Trull and Angersleigh, and the winner of Theology Slam 2021
What tricky situations are you facing on your frontlines this Christmas? How is God calling you to respond? Join the conversation in the comments below.