The following sermon corresponds to Advent 2 Midweek according to the Advent service plan “For unto us a Son is Given.”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The devil loved barrenness. In Genesis 3, after the devil had tempted Eve, and she and Adam ate the fruit, the Lord said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The devil knew that one day a seed of the woman would come and defeat him. And so the devil was very glad when a woman could not conceive. He took it as an opportunity to gloat, as if there were a possibility that God’s promise wouldn’t be fulfilled.
Last week with Sarah, and next week with Elizabeth, we don’t hear the devil gloating. But this week we have Peninnah. Peninnah was the wife of a man named Elkanah. Peninnah’s womb was fruitful; she has multiple sons and daughters. Elkanah also had a wife named Hannah, whom he loved. The Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, and she had no children.
From time to time, Elkanah would go with his family to Shiloh where the tabernacle was set up, and it’s likely that he went for the appointed feasts. During these feasts, the Israelites offered peace offerings. The priests would burn certain parts of the animals on the altar, and the Lord gave a portion of the meat from the peace offerings to the priests. But most of the meat was given back to the one who brought the offering. And it was now holy meat to be eaten as a sacred meal from the Lord. The peace offerings were an Old Testament anticipation of the Lord’s Supper. During these feasts, Elkanah gave portions to Peninnah and her sons and daughters. “But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5).
It was during these feasts that Peninnah provoked Hannah with great provocation in order to make her cry out. Peninnah proved to be a rival, an adversary, tormenting Hannah because the Lord had closed her womb. Hannah wept, and would not eat. No doubt Hannah counted it a personal hardship to be barren. But as a faithful woman who trusted the Lord’s promises, she’s not just thinking of herself, but of the seed who is to come for all people and stop the devil’s mouth with his foot.
Yet there’s Peninnah mocking: “I have children and you don’t. Poor barren little Hannah! All she wants is a child, but she’s a fruitless tree, taking up space!” And under these taunts are the taunts of the devil himself against all of God’s people. “You wait for the promised Savior, but he’s not coming. I’m the prince of this world, and no one can overthrow me. You’re destined to live a miserable life with that wonderfully corrupt heart that I gave you, and then die. You’re a rebel like me,” the devil says, “and you’ll forever remain in my clutches, even to the burning depths of hell!”
Hannah weeps, and we weep with her. We feel our physical malfunction, and we see the devil’s offspring everywhere in the form of those who hate Jesus, and we do not see our Lord. We cry out with David in Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” We cry out with Moses in Psalm 90, “Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!” Like Hannah, we pray.
After everyone else had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose and prayed to the Lord in the bitterness of her soul. She prayed, “Give to your maidservant a son,” or more literally “a seed of men.” Hannah asks for a seed, and it’s not a stretch to hear her praying for the Seed, the promised Seed, who as Hannah says, will “appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever” (1 Sam. 1:22).
It was not the Lord’s will to send the promised seed at this time. Nevertheless, he gave Hannah a son in order to show that he does not make his promises in vain. “In course of days Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him from the Lord’” (1 Sam. 1:20). The name Samuel in Hebrew means “he who is heard of God,” or more simply, “God heard.” Hannah named her son Samuel because he was an answer to prayer. God listened, and he sent a seed.
This was a great comfort to Hannah, not only because the Lord opened her womb, but because he confirmed his promise. And therefore Hannah’s comfort is our comfort because we have longed with her for the promised Seed. And we have even greater comfort than Hannah’s because we can speak of the fulfillment of the promise.
For centuries God’s people prayed, “Return, O Lord! How long?” For centuries the devilish Peninnah mocked God’s people. And then the fullness of time came. The womb was Mary’s womb, and the child’s name Jesus, which means “the Lord saves,” because he would save his people from their sins. And Jesus is the true Samuel. He is the one for whom Hannah and the whole Church prayed, and it is of Jesus that we say, “I have asked him from the Lord.”
Much to the devil’s chagrin, God’s promise proved true. Jesus came and fulfilled that ancient curse against the serpent. The devil opened wide his mouth to destroy Jesus with the cross. And it was on the cross that Jesus met the devil’s fangs with his heel. On and on the devil ranted against the Church: “You sinners, marked for destruction! You have no Savior! You have no – ” SMASH! Down came the Savior’s foot and broke the teeth of the wicked one and crushed his face into his tail.
Peninnah has been silenced forever, and Jesus speaks peace: “Your sins are forgiven, and the devil’s judgment has come, and you are not destined for his hell but for eternal life with God. You are not a barren Church, but a fruitful one. Take heart! The Seed has come!”
We often hear of the fruits of the cross: the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, the baptismal water and sacramental blood that flowed from Jesus’ side. We long to hear of these things over and over again. Wrapped up and included in these precious gifts, Jesus also gives us a holy and peaceful silence. Jesus makes the devil shut up. When Jesus gave himself for us, he showed his promise to be true and the devil’s taunts to be lies. The devil may still rant, but because of what Jesus has done we can tell him, “Silence, liar!” And the devil’s tongue must cease.
In her song, Hannah says to Peninnah, “Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth” (1 Sam. 2:3). “Devil, what do you have to say? Your mouth is full of Jesus’ foot, and your mumblings make no sense. But God’s promises prove true.” You can say this when you’re being tempted, when the devil torments your conscience, and anytime you hear the devil’s lies or need assurance of Jesus’ coming. You’re the one who gets to taunt the devil, not the other way around. He must be quiet, and let you come to the house of God and eat the double portion of Christ’s sacrifice in peace. And then at the end, the devil will go down silently to hell, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Amen.