Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Christmas at Harrington's

Christmas at Harrington'sI've read the story of Hagar, Abraham and Sarah's servant and mother of Ishmael, many, many times. You probably know the story yourself: God promised Abraham that he would give him more descendants than stars in the sky or sand on the shore, but after ten years, Sarah still hadn't conceived. She decided to take matters into her own hands and help God along by offering Abraham her servant Hagar. According to the law of the time, any children of Hagar would belong to Sarah and would technically meet God's promise (although not in the way He intended). Hagar quickly became pregnant and starting flaunting her condition in front of her mistress, until Sarah became so angry that she asked Abraham to throw Hagar out of their community. He reluctantly did, because he loved his wife and loved peace even more. Hagar wandered around the desert before falling down and crying in despair. The angel of God appeared to her, helped her find water, and then told her to return to Sarah and obey her, and he gave Hagar a promise that her son would also become the head of a large family, and that she should name him Ishmael. Hagar gave God the name El Roi for the "God who sees me" because He saw her in her misery.

I know the story well, but recently I came to understand it in a new way. When Abraham talks to God, we aren't too surprised. Abraham is a good man, God called him a "friend" and loved him enough to build an entire people from him. But it's a big deal that God would choose to "see" and help Hagar. Take another look at her story with me...

Sarah and Abraham are an elderly and wealthy couple. They have been blessed by everything that God can give, except that which they desired most: a son. They waited ten long years for Him to fulfill his promise with no results, so Sarah turns to her maid, Hagar. Hagar is an Egyptian; she has her own gods that she worships, although she probably keeps that secret from Sarah. She's obviously a valued servant to be offered this opportunity, but Hagar sees it a bit differently than Sarah does. Sarah expects Hagar to get pregnant, continue to do all of her duties around camp, then give birth and turn the child over to Sarah without ever acknowledging the fact that she had sex with Sarah's husband. What happened instead is that as soon as Hagar had confirmation of her pregnancy, she had an elevated view of her place within Abraham's life. Maybe she put her growing belly constantly in Sarah's view. Can't you hear her, "Oh Abraham, come feel my stomach; your son is moving!" then she slides her eyes over to Sarah with a growing smirk on her face. The Bible says "she began to despise her mistress", so I don't believe I'm exaggerating this: she believed that she could replace Sarah in Abraham's affections through her child.

So now take another look at God appearing to Hagar. Why? Ishmael wasn't the promised son to Abraham. He wasn't the one who would create God's chosen nation that would birth a Savior. Why did God reach out to Hagar who was an idol-worshipping, selfish, haughty, Egyptian. The only conclusion that I can reach is that God loved her and had plans for her. Despite her nature, despite her history, despite her hatred for Abraham's family, God loved her.

This makes me rethink how God touches and speaks to people. I guess that I always think of God talking to those people who are good, people who have it together, they pray daily, can quote the Bible at the drop of the hat, whose faith never wavers. But God doesn't just talk to the people we expect him to, and we should open our minds to the idea that God does love everyone, not just those who love and worship him. And He has plans for everyone, not just those who seek his will and desire to do it. God had plans for Hagar and loved her enough to save her. He saw Hagar, just as He sees everyone today, including those we can't imagine Him reaching out to, even those who don't deserve it. Especially those who we don't think deserve it.

I believe that there is hope in that for all of us, because we've all felt unworthy of God's notice or attention, or that there is no way that He could have a plan for us. Hagar's life gives us the assurance that God always sees us, no matter who we are.

Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson is a enjoyable novella perfect for the busy holiday season. Lena Markham has just been released from eight years in prison in time for Christmas. With no desire to return to the hometown that turned on her, she decides to start over in New Haven, Minnesota. When a donated red coat gets her a job as Mrs. Santa it seems like her life is getting better, but will the sins of her past haunt and destroy her chance of a future? Lena is a terrific character, completely selfless and willing to help out strangers. Her desire to help others quickly gains her friends in the community, and her attitude to portraying Mrs. Santa is inspiring and fun. Yes, the book is a bit sentimental, but if you can't read an overtly sentimental book at Christmas, when can you? This is the perfect season to remember to give people a second chance, to reach out to those in need and allow Christ's birth to renew our love for each other! Carlson's writing, as always, is filled with terrific characters and unexpected twists.

Thank you to Revell for providing me with a copy of this book for review. Available November 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of the Baker Publishing Group.


tracysbooknook.com said...

I thought Christmas at Harrington’s was a charming little read. Melody Carlson is a truly heart-warming author.

You can see my thoughts on this book here: