Sermon for I Christmas Year C, 28/12/2003
Based on I Sam 2:18-20, 26 & Lk 2:41-52
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, pastor of Grace Lutheran
Church & chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
A Rabbi and a Priest were sitting together on a train, and the Rabbi leans over and asks, “So, how high can you go in your organization?”
The Priest says, “If I am lucky, I guess I could become a Bishop.”
“But, could you get any higher than that?” asks the Rabbi.
“I suppose that if my works are seen in a very good light that I might be made an Archbishop,” said the Priest a bit cautiously.
“Is there any way that you might go higher than that?”
“Now, if all the Saints should smile, I guess I could be made a Cardinal,” said the Priest.
“Could you be anything higher than a Cardinal?” probed the Rabbi.
Hesitating just a little bit, the Priest said “I suppose that I could be elected Pope, but the odds there…”
So the Rabbi interjects, “And could you be anything higher than that? What is there higher than the Pope?”
“What!!! I should be the Messiah himself?!!!”
The Rabbi leaned back, smiled, and said, “Well you know, one of our boys made it!” 1
This story reminds me of the stories of two young boys and their families in our first lesson and gospel today. Like the story of the Rabbi and Priest, it seems that, from a Christian point of view, the story of Samuel and his family is sort of a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus and his family. As I read both stories and reflected on them, it struck me how many parallels there are in them. Let’s take a closer look.
First of all, there is the interesting and tense dynamic between Elkanah and Hannah and Joseph and Mary before their sons were born. In the case of Hannah, she feels like an outcast in her home and community; and that the LORD has not blessed her because she is barren. Her rival, Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, constantly puts Hannah down because of her infertility. In the case of Mary, there is a parallel in that she finds herself pregnant before she is officially married to Joseph—hence, there is again the danger of her being regarded as an outcast in her home and community and a sinner among “religious folk.” Yet, in both cases, God acts in a miraculous way. In the case of Hannah, God opens her womb and she is able to give birth to her firstborn son, naming him Samuel, and giving him to the LORD to be Israel’s last judge and an important priest and prophet. In the case of Mary, God works through conceiving Jesus vis-à-vis the Holy Spirit, and he is named Jeshua, the English Jesus, and meaning, “God is salvation.” Both men, Elkanah and Joseph seem to be caught in a dilemma, which tests their personal integrity. In the case of Elkanah, he is given the formidable task of pleasing two wives in a just and loving manner. He seeks to reassure Hannah of his love for her while struggling with her infertility. In the case of Joseph, he is face with the decision of whether or not to remain with Mary as her husband in spite of what the neighbours and some “religious folk” might think regarding the legitimacy or illegitimacy of Jesus’ birth. Both Elkanah and Joseph prove to be faithful and caring towards their wives. In these marriage relationships, surely we too can be encouraged and inspired to be faithful and caring in our marital relationships too. Such faithfulness and caring hopefully will be used by God to be an inspiration and a testimony of the holiness of the marital bond to others too. Society and the Church need examples of marital faithfulness and caring to counteract the immorality promoted by the mass media today—contrary to popular belief, adultery and fornication are not virtues but are sins against God and one another. May our God help us to continue to be faithful and caring husbands and wives.
Second, the two stories of Samuel and Jesus both emphasise the importance of a God-given growing in faith. In both stories, the two boys are in God’s house. Samuel, under the tutelage of Eli in Shiloh was: “ministering before the LORD.” Jesus, in dialogue with the teachers in the Jerusalem temple: “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Even in boyhood Samuel and Jesus display incredible faithfulness by serving God. The Samuel story is woven within a larger setting of Eli and his sons. The storyteller brings out a stark contrast between Eli’s sons and Samuel. The former were disobedient, evil and sinful. Their greed causes them to choose for themselves the best meat left over from the sacrifices of the people. Their sexual immorality most likely led them to adopt a Canaanite fertility cult, practicing ritual prostitution. On the other hand, the storyteller emphasises that: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the LORD and with the people.” In the larger context of the life of Jesus, the gospel writers also emphasise the stark contrast of Jesus and his opponents. Jesus’ opponents plot and scheme and set out to trap him at every possible opportunity; until the plot thickens and they succeed in orchestrating Christ’s death. It is clear in this all that those who fall under the powers of evil will stop at nothing to do away with Jesus. Yet, in spite of all these evil powers, Jesus remained unwaveringly faithful to God right up to the end. In the lives of both Samuel and Jesus there was this constant growth, maturity and faithfulness in serving their God. If we as Christ’s followers are going to be faithful in serving God, then we too need to continue to grow and mature in our faith and life. We do this by coming to worship regularly, studying the scriptures, praying, and sharing the Good News of Jesus with others in our words, thoughts and actions. May our LORD continue to bless us to help us with this as we endeavour to fulfill our baptismal covenant.
A third parallel of these two stories of Samuel and Jesus is that they both ended up serving God as judges, priests and prophets. In the Samuel story, we learn that he served God as Israel’s last judge; functioned as a priest at Shiloh, wearing the symbolic garb of a priest at the time—a linen ephod and special robe made by his mother each year; he also functioned as a prophet, warning Israel of the dangers of their quest for a king and thus becoming like all the other nations. Yet, God employed Samuel to anoint Israel’s greatest king, David. In this act, Samuel was a forerunner, preparing the way centuries later for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, who was born of the house and lineage of David. On the other hand, when we Christians speak of Jesus’ role as judge, priest and prophet—we emphasise that Someone, (namely Jesus), is greater than Samuel or any other human being. Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords shall one day rule as Judge over all nations. He is the Perfect Priest who offered God the most, once-for-all-time, Perfect Sacrifice, atoning for the sin of the world. As Perfect Priest he bridged the wide gap and removed all barriers and divisions between human and human and God and humankind. And he is greater than all other prophets by fulfilling all of their prophecies by his birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection—in other words, the promised coming one has now come, he is God-among-us, our Immanuel.
As we move towards the end of one year and the beginning of another, we can thus be reassured with this Good News that God is with us when we feel like everyone else is against us; that God-with-us, Immanuel invites us to enjoy life and make the most of life by continuing to grow and mature in our faith journey; that we can look forward to the future and the New Year, trusting in God-with-us, for in him our lives are made whole, making it possible for us to fulfill our calling as God’s people. Amen.
1 I thank my friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Gary Watts for sharing this story with me.