The world has changed a lot in the past three or four thousand years. All those years ago life was very uncertain. There were no hospitals and no doctors – perhaps the very rich could afford a doctor, but their knowledge of human illness was very small. People died of all sorts of diseases that we don’t have to worry about. Only the very tough and the very lucky lived to a ripe old age. So one of the things that women had to do was to have lots and lots of children.
Peninnah, one of Elkanah’s wives, had sons and daughters which meant that she could despise Hannah for being childless.
The reason for Hannah’s childlessness is given to us. In fact we hear the reason twice in the first two sentences. Hannah was childless because the Lord had closed her womb. The writer wants us to understand that the Lord God is in control. It is the Lord God who decides when a woman is to be childless and when she is to conceive. Year after year Hannah went up to the temple to pray for a child, and although Elkanah, her husband, loved her, they could not conceive, and year after year Peninah teased and provoked her.
The change came when Hannah was desperate. She went to the temple and prayed for a child. “Give me a child, O Lord of hosts,” she prayed, “and I will give him back to you as a servant, a nazirite.” This meant that although Hannah might have a child, she would have him only until he was weaned, and then she had to give him away for ever. He would serve in the temple and see his parents once a year. Hannah was so desperate for a child that she was prepared to give birth to a son who she would have to give away.
Eli, the old high priest, was getting old, and his two sons, Hophni and Phineas were disobedient and corrupt. Eli was going blind and getting a little deaf, so when he saw Hannah praying, he thought she was drunk and spoke to her sharply. This shows that Eli had no idea that the Lord God was at work. Hannah was praying for a special child, one who would serve the Lord God all his life, one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, and Eli thought she was drunk. The priests of the Lord could not see that God was at work.
Hannah knew that God was at work. After her prayer she was cheerful again, she started eating and drinking again. She went home with her husband and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She called him Samuel, because she had asked him of the Lord. This is to help us see that the Lord God is in control, answering Hannah’s desperate prayer because it was in God’s plan for Samuel to serve in the temple and to be a great prophet.
The story of Samuel is that he was a prophet of God and a judge of the Israelite people; he made Saul the first king of Israel and afterwards deposed him and appointed David as king instead. Samuel’s story is part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world, because we know that King David was the ancestor of Jesus.
However, the story we hear today is the story of Hannah, Samuel’s mother. It is the story of her faithfulness and prayer, her trust in God. She had great trust in God because when she could cope her childlessness no more and when Peninnah’s teasing was driving her mad, in her desperation she turned to the one she could trust – God. And when at last Samuel was born, she entrusted her first born son to God as she had promised in her trouble.
It is good to remember this story because it makes me think of the importance of baptism. Anthea and Ron have brought each of their children, Ronan, Veronica and Rohan to be baptized. God has given them the gift of children and have come to dedicate their children to God. When we baptize Rohan we will make the sign of the cross on his forehead. I will say, “Rohan, I sign you with the sign of the cross to show that you are marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
Ron and Anthea, Rohan’s godparents and all of us here today proclaim that God is at work in the lives of these people. Rohan is a gift from God and today we commit him to be part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Who knows? God may call him to be a prophet. God may call him to be a doctor, or a lawyer. God may call him to be a plumber or an electrician. God may call him to drive a truck or work in an office or to be Prime Minister. Whatever the future may hold, we want to see God at work in this new life.
And just as Samuel was sent to serve in the sanctuary at Shiloh, so today we commit Rohan to serve in the household of God. Through our meeting together, through our saying the creed, through the sprinkling of water on Rohan’s body and heart, we follow the advice given in the letter to the Hebrews. We “approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Today Rohan is being brought into the household of God just as Samuel was brought into the house of God at Shiloh.
Now it is our task to bring Rohan to a mature faith in Christ so that he can make for himself the promises we are making for him today. We are going to help him grow into the life God wants him to live – whatever that may be. We’ll need to encourage one another to love and good deeds, to meet together, to pray together to trust the promises of God, for God’s promises are faithful and true.