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Advent | Childbirth at Christmas: Hagar and The Tricky One

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.’

Genesis 16:11–13

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 Ball
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.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for the reminder that God can use our voices silences, and presence to share his love, nurture, and care with those we meet. When we are feeling sad in a season of joy He can give us strength still to listen and our presence can bring comfort to others who find this a tough time. Thank you too for pointing out that Hagar’s was an annunciation and linking that revelation to other annunciations.

    By Claire Ross  -  6 Dec 2021
  2. Insightful. Incisive. No easy promises but presence in the wilderness assured.Tough training. Tough circumstances. Made different knowing God knows and cares. Thank you for saying it how it is for many. Ok

    By Jilli  -  6 Dec 2021
  3. Thank you Imogen for such an insightful read…conveying the compassion and hope of Gods heart for those who are disempowered. Really challenging to remain humble and attentive to others…being listened to and heard is a powerful act of love

    By Christine McDermott  -  6 Dec 2021
  4. These were revelatory

    She is not addressed by name until the angel speaks to her in the wilderness.
    Hagar is the first woman in the Bible to receive an annunciation

    God hears, God sees. Thank you for the article.

    By Renju Philip  -  6 Dec 2021
  5. Imogen, thank you for a very thoughtful article, there is much here for me to reflect upon. May God richly bless you.
    Tony Coffey

    By Tony Coffey  -  7 Dec 2021

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