“Who Is This Child?” – 12-30-12 – Christmas 1 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here: 

Scriptures:     I Samuel 2:18-21,26     Psalm 148     Col 3:12-17     Luke 2:41-52

Two children – Samuel and Jesus – are so similar and very intertwined.  Believing that Jesus is part of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who form God – Jesus was present before Samuel was born.  Being one of the persons of God, I believe that Jesus would know about Samuel long before Samuel was conceived.

And yet on earth, Samuel was instrumental in the ancestry of Jesus, not in the genealogy but being involved in the anointing of David as king of Israel.  And the earthly Jesus descended from David the king.  Very interesting and inspiring.  You may be very familiar with Samuel’s birth and life work or this may be new to you.  I hope you will enjoy this story with me.

A man named Elkanah had a wife named Hannah.  Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah.  Peninnah was able to conceive children.  Hannah was not.  Peninnah ridiculed Hannah.  However, Elkanah loved Hannah very much.  He thought she should be satisfied with his great love for her even though she had no children.

Each year Elkanah took both wives and the children of Peninnah to the house of the Lord at Shiloh.  They would give some meat as sacrifice and some meat to the priest and they would enjoy a meal with the remainder.  Then they would return to their home in the hill country of Ephraim.

One year, Hannah was praying alone before the Lord and in the hearing of Eli, the priest.  Hannah was broken-hearted and was crying as she prayed.  She said to God, “Lord All-Powerful, I am your servant, but I am so miserable!  Please let me have a son.  I will give him to you for as long as he lives, and his hair will never be cut.”  (Never cutting a child’s hair was a sign that the child belonged to the Lord.)  Eli the priest said to Hannah, “You may go home now and stop worrying.  I’m sure the God of Israel will answer your prayer.”  Hannah thanked Eli the priest.

The Lord did bless Elkanah and Hannah with a son.  They named him Samuel.  When Samuel was old enough, Hannah took him to the house of the Lord – to Eli the priest – to stay. Then Hannah prayed a song to the Lord, very similar to the song Mary sang when she was with child with Jesus.  Both of these outbursts of praise and belief are about lifting the lowly, feeding the poor, bringing justice.  They are about knowing that God is in control and has a plan.  It is about honoring the mothers who were privileged to be involved in these special births.

I am wondering if Hannah had any understanding of what God had planned for Samuel.  Samuel became an anointer of kings as well as a prophet for the Lord.  Samuel first anointed Saul and then Samuel found David and anointed David to be the successor to Saul.  It all seemingly began when Hannah was desperate to have a child and then gave the child to the Lord to live and work in the temple.  But, God had bigger plans for Samuel.  Samuel’s ministry was out in the world.  I think Mary did have a little more understanding of the special child to whom she gave birth.  Mary had not had time to be desperate for a child.  She was practically a child herself.  But she said, “Yes” and the rest is history.

Samuel’s story involves the temple.  Jesus’ story involves the temple.  There are a bunch of temple events in the life of Jesus.

When it was the right number of days after the birth, Jesus was taken to the temple to be circumcised and to be named and blessed.   First-born boys were said to belong to the Lord.  Two turtledoves or two young pigeons were sacrificed at that time.

The exciting part here is that when Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem, a good man named Simeon was present.  Simeon had been promised by the Lord’s Spirit that he would not die until he had seen Christ the Lord.  Now finally, Simeon sees this baby who is Christ the Lord.  This is the moment when our sermon title is answered.  Who is this child?  This Child is Christ the Lord.  Simeon knew this when he looked upon Jesus.  Simeon was so overjoyed that he took Jesus in his arms and prayed aloud to the Lord thus.

“Lord, I am your servant, and now I can die in peace, because you have kept your promise to me.  With my own eyes I have seen what you have done to save your people, and foreign nations will also see this.  Your mighty power is a light for all nations, and it will bring honor to your people Israel.”  We call this prayer the “Nunc Dimitis.”  It is usually in our hymnals.  It has lived through these centuries since Simeon uttered these holy words.  It was not only Simeon in this pageant.  No, not only Simeon.  There was a woman prophet, named Anna, who lived in the temple. She fasted and prayed as her ministry in the temple.  Upon seeing this child Jesus, Anna praised God. She spoke about the child Jesus to everyone who hoped for Jerusalem to be set free.

So this was a joyous time for both Simeon and Anna.  For Joseph and Mary, joy was probably not the best word.  They were amazed.  Simeon blessed Joseph and Mary and then spoke words to Mary which were a forewarning of the day when Mary would stand at the foot of the cross and feel as though a sword had pierced her heart.  Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returned to Nazareth, the home of Mary and Joseph.

Do you know that good Hebrew people were expected to travel to the temple in Jerusalem each year at the time of the remembrance of the Passover that had occurred in Egypt when the Israelites were slaves and wanted to escape this oppression?  Lamb’s blood, on the doorposts and the lintel of the house, would indicate a home to be “passed over” by the Lord when the Lord was convincing the Pharoah that the Lord was serious about “letting his people go”.  The Lord would kill the first born child and the first born animals in Egyptian familes.  The Lord would not touch the homes and families which had the visible lamb’s blood on their doorposts.

So the next temple story of Jesus happens when he is twelve years old and he is part of the pilgrimage with his parents to Jerusalem from Nazareth.  This family group was ready to leave Jerusalem and return to Nazareth so leave they did.  It is hard to believe, but as parents we know it is very easy to lose a child, so it is that Mary and Joseph assumed that Jesus was with the group.  I think they had younger children to gather by that time.  So they had gone a good distance when somehow they realized that Jesus was not with them.  So they retraced their steps and returned to Jerusalem to search for this missing Holy One.  There he was!  Gathered with the group of leaders of the temple and possibly other learned men and it appeared that Jesus was informing them!

Hindsight urges us to expect Mary to have said, “Jesus, we are so proud of you.  You have so much understanding and wisdom.”  Did she say that?  No, she was a human mother.  She scolded Jesus for putting them through so much trouble and anxiety.  Did Jesus apologize?  No, he did not.  Jesus evidently said, “Don’t you know I need to be about my Father’s business.”

This all sounded puzzling to Joseph and Mary.  They should have known, don’t you think?  They knew this was a very special person whom they were raising.  Who is this child?  This child is the Son Person of God, of the Trinity, come to earth, full of wisdom and stature and in divine and human favor.  What is stature?  It is greatness gained by ability and achievement.  We know that this stature was not gained by the striving of Jesus; it was innate in Him being the Son person of the Trinity come to earth.

Moving on to yet another temple event, remember when Jesus became angry and drove the money-makers and money-changers from the temple when He entered Jerusalem the final time.  He said the temple was a place to worship God.  After cleansing the temple of these goings-on, Jesus used the temple setting to do more teaching about the purpose of His life on earth.  Of course, this was His un-doing!  This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The people who were in control, the people who had the power were fearful of this charismatic, powerful person named Jesus.  He was Hebrew by birth and education but this Jesus was very different.  He was radical.  He was calling for change!

And yet one more temple story.  Remember the drama at noon and later on the day that Jesus hung on the cross.  Hear the story from Luke in the Contemporary English Version.  “Around noon the sky turned dark and stayed that way until the middle of the afternoon.  The sun stopped shining, and the curtain in the temple split down the middle.  Jesus shouted, ‘Father, I put myself in your hands.’  Then he died.”   So even though the cross was on a hill, the Lord spoke from the temple in the tearing of the curtain.  No more shall holiness be hidden behind a curtain.  Salvation is available to all people not just special people.  Being a believer of this child named Jesus is not a closed affair.  The door is wide open to everyone.  Let us enter the temple doors.  But remember, this is the new concept of temple, it is not a certain building.  Temple has become wherever we are, whatever we are doing.  We can find fellow believers at work, at play, at school, at home.  When we join, however briefly, in expression of confession and praise, we are in a temple and Jesus is with us with his beloved partners, the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Who is this child?  The Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.  Think of all the other children in this great story of salvation: Samuel, Moses, David, son of Jesse, John the Baptist, then ourselves.  What are we doing to pass this great divine story?  Are we passing the word through voice and action?  Don’t you know we need to be about our Father’s business?  Amen