Sermon 12/27/2015 Christmas 1

Pastor Walther / December 27, 2015 / Christmas 1
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 / Growing in Favor
    I think our favorite season of the year, maybe even more popular than Christmas is the political season.  The political season is the time of year when candidates debate and mudsling.  We gather together with our family around the warm fire, drinking hot cocoa, and analyzing with pie charts the viewpoints on foreign wars.  I’m sure some people even like to sing carols and decorate their trees with the logos of each front runner.  The reality of picking a new president is such a silly and nerve racking cause.  This new president will be a world leader making decisions for our country.  We at least realize that a leader is important.  If we lived in a state of anarchy, anything would go.  Speed limits wouldn’t be enforced. Businesses would probably crumble and the world as we know it would cease to exist because people could do whatever they wanted. In some very minor respects, that would be awesome. However, we know that such a way of living would regress rather than progress.
    Before King David was around to make the nation of Israel great, the nation was regressing.  God had given responsibilities to certain people to be judges and to help lead the people.  You probably remember the famous judge, Samson.  Some of these judges, just like in the case of Samson, would fail in their responsibilities.  Israel wanted to be like every other nation, who had some type of authority figure to rule over them. The people of Israel wanted a figurehead for their nation, a king that would be their point man, instead of a God that they couldn’t see.  So with time, the people had failed to listen to God, to follow his commands, and to trust his judgment. People drifted away from their faith in God and looked to the different religions in the area.  The Book of Judges mentions, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” And so, we see the moral decay of the nation of Israel.
    Sadly, this was also true of the priests.  The spiritual leaders who should have been reminding the people of both law and gospel, were falling into the very same traps as the people.  A priest named Eli, who himself was apparently moral and kept his faith in God, had lost control of his own sons.  Because priests were not necessarily payed, the priests were allowed a share of certain offerings.  The sons of Eli, however, took more than their allotted share.  In fact, they took for themselves the choice meat of the sacrificial animals which rightfully belonged to the Lord as His offering.  On top of that, they tried their hand at a Canaanite cultic practice of having sex with women right in the tabernacle area, right in the place of worship.  There was no shame simply because that was common and what everyone was doing.  To those who may have been offended, to those who may have even spoken up to explain what God’s word had to say, they would been seen as backward, or judgmental, or stuck in an old way of thinking.  Even though Eli’s sons were priests, they were also tantalized by the green pasture that appeared on the other side of the fence.
    We might look in horror at such a thing and ask how they could do that or even get away with it.  How could anyone, including their father, not say anything? It was because they had become so culturally desensitized to it.  Do we not see couples living together before they are even married, living in sin and unrepentant, and chalk it up to, well everyone is doing it, the economy is really tough right now, or the times isn’t right for marriage? Do we not see pornography all around us, encouraging our children in the thought that girls have to dress inappropriate so that boys might like them?  We imply that it is normal and ok for that behavior.  When we fail to speak up for what God actually says, we are letting people defame God’s name and His house, just as Eli’s sons did.  Our sinful mind persuades us to think that an awkward conversation about someone’s sinful behavior isn’t worth trying to save them.  
    The fault not only was with the sons, but also with their father, Eli.  Eli didn’t speak up to warn his sons.  At this time he was probably in his 90s. And when he actually spoke up, his words of admonition are a classic example of too little too late. Parents who “spare the rod” not only spoil the child, but it can be said, contribute to their child’s eternal destruction.  
    We see the problem when people try to live the double life. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” In the context, Jesus said that about money.  However, anything that takes priority over God falls into that category.  We can’t lead a double life, both a Christian life and a worldly life full of worldly pursuits, because in the process we become dedicated to the wrong idea.  We become dedicated to the idea of compromise.  As children of God, we were not called to live this way.
    Verse 18 seems to bring a beacon of light and hope in such a dark and sinful context.  We see the contrast between the family of Eli with the family of Hannah.  Hannah was barren and had prayed for a child, promising that she would give that child into the service of the Lord.  We are told that the Lord “remembered” Hannah and gave the sterile Hannah a son.  She wanted a constant reminder of the Lord’s love to her, and so she named her son “Samuel” which means “I asked the Lord.”  Though Hannah gave Samuel to the Lord, she was still his mother and kept certain motherly responsibilities.  She came at least yearly to the tabernacle to attend to the needs of her son. Nor did the Lord forget Hannah.  He gave her not only what she had prayed for but much more: in her case three sons and two daughters.  
    Samuel, is a beautiful example of the blessings of training children to know God when they are young.  We're told the young Samuel “continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.” After Eli, Samuel functioned not only as a priest, but also roles as a judge and a prophet. He also was God’s instrument at the time when Israel’s government changed from theocracy to monarchy. He would anoint king Saul and David into office. Yet, Samuel wasn’t perfect. He would make mistakes in his job, make mistakes in his personal life and in his spiritual life.  At times the world would call to him just like it did to Eli and his sons.
    Interestingly our Savior, whom we just celebrated His birth a couple days ago, would take on very similar responsibilities to Samuel.  However, Jesus would always be obedient to his parents.  He would always be obedient to His Heavenly Father even to the point that he would obey his Father’s will to die on a cross. Christ would be that perfect high priest who would take on our sins.  Even with the pressures of society, even with the pressures of Satan working on him, Jesus never caved or gave in.  God saw what Jesus did for us and looked with favor on the whole operation.  God gave to us the forgiveness of sins and, now, he looks with favor on us.
    Because God looks with favor on us, He wants us to live a new life, a life that’s different from what we often think is normal.  We don’t live normal lives as the world sees. We will often be viewed backward and old fashioned in the way we live, think, and speak.  However, we aren’t alone in the world as people criticize our Christian living because our Savior will be with us every step of the way, who was criticized his whole life.  Christ’s words of comfort for us are in his Word.
    Our lives as Christians is part of a process. The temptation to live the double life like Eli and his sons is so alluring and standing strong is a constant battle and a tiring one for that matter, which is why we need to continue to grow spiritually so that we might stand against what the world tries to say and so that we know how to live as God’s children.   
    When my grandfather was alive, he had this knack of always trying to get rid of things in his house and give it to us.  There were always stories with each piece.  Some things were worth keeping, some could have been pitched out.  One of the greatest gifts that any of my grandparents and parents could hand down was the knowledge about my Savior Jesus.  In our account for today, Hannah made sure her son would know his Messiah.  As we hear in our lesson, Samuel continued to grow, not only physically but he also grew in favor with the Lord.  In other words, he grew spiritually.  Bringing our next generation up in God’s Word is so important.  When they see your example, they will mimic you because they look up to you.  
    People are always looking at you.  Not to freak you out, but people are always looking at you to see how you live.  That can be negative thing if your neighbor sees you living like the world lives, or it can be a positive thing if your neighbor sees you expressing Christ’s love and living a Christian life.  People take notice of such things, even if it looks old fashioned.  When you express your loving concern for your unchurched friend as they go through difficult moments, they will take notice.  Are those not the perfect opportunities to invite them to church?
    However, your witness and your dialogue with people always begin with your personal faith life.  We, as pastors, always say to read God’s Word, and you may wonder where to even start.  The New Testament is a great place to start, but the Old Testament is often over looked.  Here’s an option: study the life of Samuel!  Become familiar with Samuel and all the spiritual warfare that Satan flung at him and analyze how Samuel handled it.  See how God’s Word changes hearts.  In God’s Word, we are strengthened and reassured why we live the way that we do.  Let us not regress as the world does, but let us continue to dedicate our lives to God and share that love to our children and the people around us.  Amen.