18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. 20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.
26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.
1 Samuel 2:18-20,26
Every year, Samuel’s mom, Hannah, always got him the same thing, clothes. She didn’t get him clothes that were the latest trend worn by a celebrity or athlete, but one little robe that she made him by hand. Hannah brought the little robe to Samuel every year when she and her husband, Elkanah, went to the temple to offer the annual sacrifice. Samuel lived and served at the temple all year, so he needed to be dressed properly in his little priestly robe to serve. It was a special moment every year when Hannah came to visit her son. When she came to see Samuel, I’m sure that she wished time would slow down for her to enjoy more time visiting her son, but she had promised God that Samuel would serve the Lord all the days of his life in the temple, and soon she would have to go back home without him. Christmas is already almost one week away and I’m sure all of you share the same wish as Hannah, for a few more moments with loved ones. The time after the Christmas season often fills our hearts with sorrow because we go from such happy moments with family, friends and vacation back into work, school, schedules and time away from the ones we love. For all the sorrows we must endure, there is good news from our first reading from 1 Samuel 2 that sorrows stop with the gift of a Son.
Before Hannah had her first child, she was a woman of sorrows. Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, was married to a second wife, Peninnah. Elkanah and Peninnah were able to have children, but Hannah could not. And it was hard enough for Hannah to have no children, but to also have to share her husband, and share him with a woman who could have children made it even harder. Plus, we read in 1 Samuel 1 that
6 Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.
Hannah’s sorrow over not being able to have children followed her everywhere. She prayed often asking God to give her children, and one day when she was in the temple praying, the priest, Eli, saw her. At first, the priest did not understand what she was doing sitting in the corner of the temple mumbling, but after he learned she was deep in prayer, Eli told her,
“Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
After she and her husband returned home from their trip to the temple, Hannah conceived and gave birth to her first-born son, Samuel.
After God allowed Hannah to have a son, her sorrow changed. Hannah was overjoyed with God’s gift of a son. All the abuse she had taken from her husband’s other wife, all the guilt she had for not being able to provide her husband with children and all the joy she missed out on without children had been overcome through her baby Samuel. God had heard her prayer, which is what Samuel’s name means, “heard by God.” Hannah’s sorrow had changed because God had answered her prayer with the gift of a son, but she could only keep Samuel until he was weaned. Then, she took him to the temple and gave him to Eli the priest because she promised God that if he gave her a son, then she would give him over to the Lord all the days of his life. God heard Hannah’s prayer, but there was still sorrow because she did not have children at home. She still got to see him every year when they went to the temple, and while she and her husband were there,
20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.
When sorrow strains our hearts like it did Hannah, it makes trusting in God difficult. When couples are not able to have children despite all the advances in modern science and many prayers, that sorrow makes trusting God difficult. When wives feel inadequate for their husbands for all kinds of reasons, that sorrow makes trusting God difficult. When husbands feel powerless to comfort their wives, that sorrow makes trusting God difficult. When people around us latch onto a weakness of ours and use their words to belittle and shame us, that sorrow makes trusting God difficult. These and so many more moments in our lives fill us with sorrow causing us to wonder how the God who calls us his “sons and daughters” and says, “everything exists for him and through him,” could allow such things.
When sorrow strains our hearts, we wonder if the Son of God truly reigns for us. The heart of our struggle with sorrow in this world is to wonder why the all-powerful God allows it. The answer is that God allows it because we chose it. When Adam and Eve gave into the devil’s temptation to sin against God, they brought sin and sorrow into the world. Therefore, God is not the creator of sin nor is he guilty of sin; we are the ones who caused sin and we suffer for it. The reason that the sorrow of sin continues is because God allows us to continue to live. That means that the only way for sin to stop is if God stops allowing us to live. And, there are two ways God can do this. On the one hand, we all die, which we all do eventually die. On the other hand, God can put someone else to death in our place as punishment for our sins. Either way, God has stopped sin and dealt out punished for the sins committed. The problem with both of these solutions is that we still face the fear of death and we still have sorrow.
Hannah was sorrowful, but she could be glad because of God’s gift to her. Hannah still had to deal with Elkanah’s other wife, who I’m sure did not become any nicer when Hannah had Samuel. Hannah still had other feelings of inadequacy in her marriage because we all do for various reasons. And, Hannah still had to leave her son every year at the temple, but she was not as sorrowful because of God’s gift. Not only did God give Hannah the gift of her son Samuel, but as he served at the temple, Samuel 26
… continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.
What a blessing for Hannah to know that her son was loved by God and people! And, God also blessed Eli’s prayer for Hannah and 21
And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters.
God stopped Hannah’s sorrows with the gift of a son and with the gift of his Son Jesus, God has stopped our sorrows too.
In our second reading from Hebrews 2, God revealed how he stopped our sorrows with the gift of his Son. Jesus had to become one of us, as the writer to the Hebrews wrote,
“since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”
Jesus had to become one of us so that he could be held accountable to the same laws of God as we are and suffer for our breaking God’s law. Jesus endured the sorrow of sin and died,
“so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—.
Jesus broke the power of the devil by rising from the dead. In other words, the greatest weapon of the devil was death, but by dying and rising, Jesus proved himself more powerful. Therefore, Jesus freed
“those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
The freedom we have from the fear of death through Jesus stops our sorrows because it means we are able to look past death and see eternal life in heaven. We are also able to look past the temporary sorrows from sin and have peace until we reach heaven.
Hannah did not neglect coming to God when sorrow weighed down on her heart. When Hannah’s heart was heavy with sorrow, she turned to God for help. She did not blame God for her sorrows, but saw him as the only one who could help her. The same is true for us. Do not neglect coming to God, when sorrows come into your life. Come to worship, remember your baptism, come to communion for the forgiveness of your sins, open your Bible and reading 1 Samuel 1 & 2 to hear how God answered the prayer of Hannah, and open to Luke 1 & 2 and read about the Son God sent to save us that first Christmas. And at the end of Luke 2 be assured that Jesus is the Savior who was perfect for us as we read in our gospel lesson,
and Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Jesus was perfect, so that through his perfect sacrifice we would be free from our sorrows and safe with him in heaven, as Hebrews says,
“Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”
Just like Samuel always got the same gift from his mother every year, as Christians we always get the same gift on Christmas. Every year at Christmas, we retell the events of Jesus’ birth. We retell these events because they happened to save us and give us peace with God. We all have sorrow that strains our hearts because sin robs us of the good things God wanted us to have in his created world. The final sorrow sin causes us is death. The sorrow of sin and darkness of death both melt away in the warmth of our Savior’s familiar story. Jesus came to give us life. He stops all our sorrows by saving us from death. He stops all sorrows by sending his Spirit to comfort us through his Word and sacraments. Jesus stops all sorrow because God the Father had favor on him, was pleased with him, loved him and accepted him as the victor over our enemies. Jesus stops all sorrow because he reigns in heaven as our King and will one day bring us there to live with him as his brothers and sisters. Every year we retell all Jesus as done for us because sorrows stop with the gift of a Son. Amen.