GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST
AND ON EARTH, PEACE, GOODWILL TO ALL.
We had a very nice Christmas this year and I liked all my presents. I got moccasins which I wanted and an ice scraper which I hope I won’t need, a new umbrella which I know I will, some after shave which may be a hint that it is time to take off this beard and a new wallet. We gave our daughter Mary a new winter coat and our other daughter Anne a new watch. It was a good Christmas at our house. Sometimes the very best presents are unexpected. We had a foreign exchange boy from Germany who lived with us ten years ago, Jan. He is now finishing university with a music degree. He sent us a CD which he made. He played alto and soprano saxophone on it.When he lived with us, he was just beginning to play. I wondered what the package from Germany contained and was just delighted to get his music CD. It was a special gift because he was in some way giving himself.
Our text today comes from First Samuel and talks about a present given and the blessing the givers received. The story of Samuel is one of my favorite in Scripture. Do you remember how Hannah prayed for a son when she couldn’t have children and how Eli, the old priest, thought her drunk when she was praying so hard. God heard Hannah’s prayers and gave her a son. They named him Samuel, which means, “I have asked him of God.” This boy was dedicated to the Lord and brought to the Tabernacle at Shiloh, the Tent of Meeting, to serve with Eli. This is the setting for our text, the House of the Lord. The time of the story is the yearly sacrifice when Elkanah and his family would go up to Shiloh. Each year Hannah made a new robe to give to her son. Each year he grew and he needed a larger size:
SAMUEL WAS MINISTERING TO THE LORD,
A BOY WEARING A LINEN EPHOD.
HIS MOTHER USED TO MAKE FOR HIM A LITTLE ROBE
AND TAKE IT TO HIM EACH YEAR
WHEN SHE WENT UP WITH HER HUSBAND
FOR THE YEARLY SACRIFICE.
We can just picture this—it is festival time, maybe like our Christmas. Hannah has made a robe for her little boy—people still give pajamas and robes at Christmas, at least we used to give our daughters new ones every year. Loving parents want to make sure their children are warm and safe—we gave our daughters snow boots again this year. We can see the love of this mother for her first child: Hannah made Samuel a new robe.
It is also worth noting what Samuel was wearing when his mother came. He wore an ephod, a holy ceremonial garment which was reserved just for the priests. We do not know exactly what an ephod was like at the time—later it would become an elaborate priestly garment but now it was plain linen. The ephod may have been something like an apron covering only the front of his body—that’s what many scholars think––or a loincloth or simple tunic.
What is unusual is that Samuel, a little boy, was wearing one. He is already ministering to the Lord and serving as a priest. This little boy was miraculously conceived. He would soon hear the voice of God directly at a time when the Word of the Lord was rare and vision not widespread. It is in the next chapter of the first book of Samuel that God calls him in the night and the boy finally answers, “Here I am, Lord.” In our text the only word of God is the blessing that Eli gives to Elkanah and Hannah that they would be blessed by many children because of the gift they had given the Lord.
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There does not seem to be great spiritual significance to our text, this story of a young boy acting as a priest whose mother makes him a new robe each year. We are reminded of the blessing of giving gifts and how whatever the present is, it is to be valued and appreciated. Hannah gave her gift and she received her blessing. I read this text in the Hebrew and over and over again in English and wondered why making a new robe would be such an occasion of blessing. I thought it meant that even the littlest good deed is rewarded and that it really is the thought that counts and not the size of the gift. I still do—especially those gifts which are personally selected or hand made or just what the person needs or really wants, the thoughtful gifts, which are so appreciated. But then as I thought about it, the gift that receives Eli’s blessing is not the robe but the boy. Hannah and Elkanah gave back to God the gift for which they had prayed, this son. Hannah said to her husband:
AS SOON AS THE CHILD IS WEANED,
I WILL BRING HIM
THAT HE MAY APPEAR IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD,
AND REMAIN THERE FOREVER;
I WILL OFFER HIM FOR ALL TIME.
Hannah and Elkanah gave their greatest gift, this boy Samuel, as an offering to the Lord.
The Bible says, “Train up a children in the way they should go and when they are old, they will not depart from it.” Our children are a gift of God given to us, parents and grandparents, to train in the right way so they do not go astray. We ask our parents in baptism to bring their children to the services of God’s house and teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments and to provide for their instruction in the Christian faith so that they may lead godly lives until the day of Jesus Christ. Parents and sponsors say “I do.”
Many do what they promise, but some do not. Life gets too busy for Sunday School and confirmation class. Other things come in the way, work, recreation, organized sports. We give our children so many presents that we make Christmas an orgy of consumption rather than a time to remember the birth of the Christ child. We may give our children so many things but neglect to train them up in the Christian faith. The gift of Hannah was not so much the robe she made with love for her little boy, but that she gave him to the Lord. And she was blessed.
When we bring our children up in the Lord they are blessed and we are too. Martin Luther preached:
Parents, even if they had nothing else to do, might attain eternal blessedness through their children. And if they bring them up in the true service of God, they will have both hands full of good works to do. What else are the hungry, thirsty, naked, the prisoners, the sick and the strangers here but the souls of your own children for whose sake God makes your house a hospital and appoints you the master of it, that you may tend them, feed them and quench their thirst with good words and works…so that they learn to trust in God, believe in Him, fear Him, and place their hope in Him, to honor His Name and neither swear nor curse, be diligent, worship God and hear His Word…There is no easier way for parents to merit hell than through their own children, in their own home, when they neglect to teach them these things. On the Day of Judgment, God will demand of them the children He has given and committed to them.
I give thanks for my parents who took me to church and Sunday school. There was never a question of what we would do on Sunday mornings. When I got to college my mother developed a ruse to get me up—she would make bacon and eggs and I didn’t have the heart to not get up to eat them and, since I was up, I went to church.
Elizabeth Achtemeier, a theologian, wrote about her parents in the Christian Century :
I did not know at the time that all those experiences were sinking into my bones—that I was learning the language of prayer and hymnody, of doctrine, scripture and liturgy. But I was. I was slowly but surely being taught the language and worldview of the Christian faith the nourished me all my life long.
She adds, that a child’s faith nurturing begins with bedtime prayers, Bible story books read on a parent’s lap, mealtime devotions, family conversations about God, faithful parenting and modeling of the Christian life. When we rear our children in the Christian faith, we are returning thanks to God for our children and giving them back to God as Hannah once gave Samuel.
And we are blessed. As a pastor it is gratifying to see the next generations following in the footsteps of faith that prior generations held dear. I see it here at Central Lutheran Church, parents and grandparents who care so deeply that children will believe in the Lord Jesus. Sometimes it is the young people who bring their parents and grandparents back to Church and Christian commitment. I am grateful that my daughters are Christians and have entered adulthood active in a church. I can think of no greater present to me than the faith of my children, knowing that which I value and hold most precious, faith in Jesus Christ, they do too.
The story of Hannah and Elkanah, Eli and Samuel took place more than three thousand years ago. It is the story of a woman who wanted a child and prayed hard and was granted her prayer by God’s gift of a son. It is the story of a boy who grew in wisdom and favor with the Lord, who was a priest as a child and grew to be the first of God’s prophets and the one who anointed Israel ‘s first kings, Saul and then David. Samuel heard God’s voice and saw visions when they were rare in the land and he spoke God’s Word with clarity and strength.
This story is more than three thousand years old but it still speaks to us of the love of parents for their children, the giving of gifts which are much appreciated no matter what they are, and giving the greatest gift of all which is ourselves and our children to God and the blessing we get in return.
Before the Service Book and Hymnal, the “red book,” came out in 1958 we always sang the same song at the offering, “We give thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a trust O Lord from Thee.” All that we have is a gift from God. Our time and talents, our lives and our children are gifts from God. We have even been given the good news that God with us, Immanuel, who is Christ the Lord. We are blessed as we return thanks, blessed as we rear our children in faith, blessed as we give back to God what we have first been given. Amen.
Copyright 2006, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.