It’s hard not to wonder what was going on in the mind of Elkanah, the husband of Hannah. His wife Hannah had been childless for so long, but after praying and asking God, she was able to become pregnant and had a son. Except that son didn’t live with them. As soon as he had been weaned, he had been sent away by his mom to serve the Lord, to live and work in God’s house. Which is why Elkanah now sat there watching his wife sew together a little robe, a robe for his boy whom he barely knew.
Then you think of Hannah. Here she was childless for quite some time, which back then made her an outcast with her family and in her community. She prayed about it. She prayed for a child but in her prayers, she also promised to give that child up in service to the Lord. God heard her prayer and she had a son, Samuel. How she then must have treasured that time she had with her son while he was just a baby, but then she kept her promise and let him go. And so there she sat, as her husband watched, making that robe for her son, whom she loved from afar.
We look at those two parents together in our lesson and we observe them now visiting their son, Samuel. You watch them greet him. You see his mother hand him that robe with small tears forming in her eyes as maybe she wonders if the robe will fit – he’s growing so fast! You see his dad beaming at him hand upon his shoulder. But then you also see in verse 19 the reason as to why they were there, not necessarily to see their son but “to offer the annual sacrifice.” They were there to worship, to grow in their faith. They were dedicated to giving their God praise and thanks. Then in verse 20 we watch them go leaving their son to continue his service to the Lord. And in verse 26 we read this, that “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.”
A child, a boy, grew. He grew in a faith and in a life that was dedicated to the Lord God. Now, I’d ask you to jump ahead with me about a thousand years to the time of our gospel lesson. We find two parents again, this time Mary and Joseph, they had brought their son, a boy named Jesus, to the temple to celebrate the Passover. That boy we are told went about his Father’s will as he taught in the temple and then we hear words similar to that of Samuel: we are told Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
Brothers and Sisters, today as we sit between the excitement and frenzy of Christmas and the beginning of a new year, our Father shares with us his will for our lives as he gives us a gentle prod, an encouragement, a reminder, to grow. Dedicate your life, focus your life on growing and maturing your relationship with your Lord and help others to do the same. This morning in our sermon lesson and in our gospel lesson we see where that growth and dedication can start. With a child.
I’ve brought this up with my wife a few times and she’s only laughed – she knows I’m kidding. But wouldn’t it be something to raise a child by teaching them all the wrong things. For instance, that light in the corner is red, right? But what if from the moment a child could understand you’d tell them that color is yellow or that this robe is orange. Then just to really mess them up you’d switch it up and teach them that on certain days it’s green. And why stop at colors what if you taught them the sky was the ground and the ground was the sky, so that one day you’re outside and you point up at what you know is a plane in the sky, but would say to them “Look at the car in the ground!” That would really mess a child up wouldn’t it? And if you did that with a lot of everyday things…think how that would be for that child once he or she got into preschool and kindergarten. That would be terrible! But honestly who would ever do that?
We wouldn’t, at least I hope not. I don’t think any of us would seriously consider messing up a child in that way. We want young children, especially our own, to learn and grow so that they can live their life with a knowledge and understanding of the basic things around them. So, now let’s take that desire to educate our children into the spiritual realm. Is the desire not the same? Do we not want our children, our grandchildren, our nieces, our nephews, to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God? To grow in their faith, their trust in their Savior? We do! And so does God.
In the view of Christ, childhood is a precious thing to be embraced and protected at all cost, a fast-closing window of opportunity to impart faith, that is trust, to the ones who will model for us the very meaning of the word. Faith in Christ, the mystery and the miracle, is not some kind of human choice or commitment that only adults can make. Salvation, heaven, eternal life, is a matter even for infants.
Take a closer look at an infant child. These are not senseless brutes but little souls. Yes, those souls are covered in sin, but that is because we parents gave it to them, passed it on to them. So, it is when the very Spirit of God enters their hearts through the power of Baptism, saving faith is created and sin filled human children become sinless children of God. So, we see, right? Each of sees the utter importance of helping children grow in their faith, in Jesus – this is a matter of life and death, eternal life and eternal death. Here is the question then. If we know it is so important to dedicate time and effort to helping children in their spiritual growth, do we see that same importance in our own lives, that we too need to grow.
I have read that in today’s world people view themselves as experts on a topic after reading an article or two online about that topic. However, not too long ago, it was only after reading a few books on a topic that you would be considered at least somewhat knowledgeable, not even an expert, on a topic. I wonder if that same attitude has at times drifted into our hearts. Perhaps, we after studying a little or reading a lot of the Bible feel we are experts on the Scriptures. And yet, as teenagers, one pointed question from a friend or challenge from a school professor might lead us to doubt what we supposedly knew so well. For those of us who are older and think of ourselves as wiser, the same thing can happen. A sudden accident in the prime of life, a difficulty in starting a family, the loss of a job, a failing marriage can collapse the foundation of a faith that we believe to be so strong.
There is the problem. We believe we are strong. We feel we are experts. We have decided ourselves that we have grown enough, that we know enough, and then we fell. Which is why our Father gives us this nudge today, why he whispers in our ear “be careful lest you fall, dedicate your life, to growing with me and you will never fall.” Our spiritual growth isn’t a one and done thing that ends at a certain age, it is ongoing. It is a lifetime. We must remember that this world we live in is not our home, and it is filled with a terror called sin. A terror that wants to rob us of peace and joy as it leads us down an empty path filled with death, ending in hell. But that terror, the pain of this world, the hardships, the questions, the doubts, the fears that sin produces each day in our life are all robbed of their power when we remain dedicated to opening this book called the Bible where we hear our Father’s voice. For it is here that he speaks to us reminding us of his dedication. A dedication seen there in that manager, where a baby, his own Son, was placed. He left him here, on this earth, knowing full well what would happen to that child whom he loved. Knowing full well that one day he would forsake him entirely as he left him to suffer hell for you and for me: to save us
We celebrated that child’s birth less than a week ago and in a few months we will watch him carry our cross to his death on Calvary. But today we see him here in our gospel lesson. He is in his Father’s house going about his Father’s will – he’s teaching. He, like his Father, was dedicated to those around him and wanted to save them. With eyes of love he saw their need for a Savior and pointed them to the Word where they could discover him even as he stood before them in the flesh. In the same way, in our lesson, our Savior sees our need and points us to himself, the Word made flesh, by encouraging us to study daily the Scriptures where we find him. So that, every day when we pick up that Word, by the power of the Spirit we grow as we are shown a new life, a life dedicated to growing with and in him. This new life isn’t tainted by this world, the devil, and our flesh; it sees sin and calls it sin leaving it behind. This new life looks at that child in a manger and smiles knowing he came for me. It sees that man named Jesus hanging, dying on a cross, and trusts – this is my Savior. It watches him walking revealing himself alive, arisen – death and sin defeated for me. And now This new life of faith waits for an end that will begin with him forever in heaven.
This is the life God in his grace has given to you. Take that life and dedicate it back to him. Grow in what you have been taught, grow in wisdom and knowledge of your Lord. And then by the Spirit who dwells in you help others to do the same, teach young and old about their Savior, so they can live a new life with you. This is our Father’s will that we dedicate our lives to growing with him, so we, trusting in Jesus as our Savior, will spend an eternal life living with him. God bless you as you live today, tomorrow, and in the new year. Amen.