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12.10.17 Feeling Lost at Christmas 1 Samuel 3.1-18 Sermon Summary

by on December 11, 2017

Before we can see the light of dawn, we have to accept the darkness of night—sometimes that’s pretty easy.

Summary Points

  • The dark wood metaphor in Samuel’s day and ours
  • The hope of light
  • How God’s call is ordinary but steadfast, and why
  • What happens when we hear God’s call

In his book Gifts of the Dark Wood, Eric Elnes says that before we can find ourselves we have to experience being lost. Or in the metaphor of the dark wood, to experience the hope of light we have to accept the darkness.

The dark wood is a metaphor of our spiritual lives. It’s the moment when trusted spiritual landmarks are no longer available, when our surroundings are no longer familiar. It can lead to confusion or doubt. It’s a basic feeling of being lost.

There’s a lot of darkness in today’s Bible passage. Eli the priest’s eyesight has begun to grow dim so that he cannot see. It is nighttime, so it’s dark for his apprentice Samuel also. Eli’s sons, also priests, have been unfaithful, treating God, ritual, and the people with contempt. They have brought darkness over the whole nation.

Many of us feel such darkness this Christmas. Deep inside we know that the holiday lights, parties, and gifts may distract us, but they can’t chase this darkness away. Our world is led by people like Eli and his sons. They say they pray, and certainly others pray for them, and they bless their nations in God’s name. But they do not listen for God’s Word. Like Eli’s sons they blaspheme God, and like Eli no one restrains them.

We have lost our way. And if we hope to be found again we need the light of God’s Word. In the story of Samuel’s calling we are told the light of the Lord had not yet gone out. It is night, but dawn is coming. It is dark, but light is about to arrive. In the lines of the narrative, “the Word of the Lord is about to be revealed.”

Samuel had a front row seat to the corruption of Eli’s priesthood. But he also had a front row seat to the presence of God. He sleeps in the Temple with the ark of God. When God comes and calls to him, Samuel doesn’t recognize it right away.

God’s call comes ambiguously, which means we can miss it. We can confuse it with something else. Samuel thought it was Eli calling. That’s how close God’s voice is to other things.

God’s call comes to us through the ordinary—like through the pages of a book, or water in a bowl, or bread and cup on a table, or imperfect ministers like Eli and I. We may have heavenly hopes, but God comes to us in earthly ways. The reason God’s calling isn’t obvious is so that we have to listen, so that we have to question, so that we have to choose.

God requires this of us because God respects our freedom to doubt and to question. God wants our partnership, so instead of intervening with miracles, God influences through people, through building relationships. This is how the world is transformed.

This was the point of Jesus’ temptations. Jesus trusted God’s presence, not God’s miracles. And by his trust he saved the world.

God was about to change the world through a relationship with Samuel. He is young and just an apprentice, but God calls him anyway. He does not yet know the Lord, the narrative tells us, but God calls him anyway. Samuel is confused and full of questions, but God does not stop calling him—once, twice, as many times as it takes.

Nothing gets in the way of God’s call—unless we are not listening. But even then God continues to call. If we want to hear it, we have just to start listening. We have to acknowledge the darkness but realize the light of the Lord has not gone out. We have to sit with the silence and listen for God’s call.

When we begin to sense God’s call, it’s helpful to verify with others, as Samuel did, even if they are imperfect like Eli. And then we have to speak the truth, as Samuel did, and live according to it, even if it leads to hard times.

Samuel faced hard times. Eli and his sons die. The Philistines capture the ark of the LORD. Samuel then leads the people for a season. His own sons become corrupt, just like Eli’s. He anoints Saul as the first king of Israel, whose reign then fails. Finally Samuel anoints David, the great king, and the ancestor of Jesus, God’s Savior of the world.

All the while, through the darkness, confusion, and doubt of being lost, Samuel listened for God’s Word and followed.

This week our Jewish siblings begin to light the Hanukkah candles. At the same time we are anticipating the Christ candle on Christmas Eve. Things may appear dark now—in our lives, in our nation, and in our world. But the light of God is coming. And if we embrace these feelings of being lost, listen for and follow God’s calling, we will be found in the light of Hanukkah and Christmas. Amen.

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