21 – On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise Him, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He had been conceived.
22 – When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord
23 – (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ),
24 – and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
36 – There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
37 – and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
38 – Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 – When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Last week I asked our church secretary, Sheila Woofter, how her five-year-old granddaughter, Janie, was doing when it came to getting ready for Christmas. Sheila chuckled and said that as a matter of fact Janie had come up to her that morning as they were getting ready for church and she had tears in her eyes. Sheila asked her what was wrong and Janie said she wished Christmas was over because she was tired of waiting for it to come. Sheila tried to console her by saying that waiting was half the fun but Janie said, “No, it isn’t. It’s too hard to wait until Christmas!”
Can any of you identify with Janie? Do you remember how it felt to wait for Christmas day to dawn way back when you were Janie’s age? I do! I always had a hard time waiting for December 25th. Back then time itself seemed to start slowing down the day after Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve day it felt as if it came to a grinding halt! I agree with Janie! Waiting for all the joy that I knew I would experience on Christmas day was so hard!
I remember one Christmas when I was about five or six, I was so fidgety on Christmas Eve day that my dad went down to the dime store and bought me a set of dominoes. Then he taught me to play and we sat at the kitchen table playing dominos for hours until I got too sleepy to play any longer. Then he shooshed me off to bed and when I woke all the waiting was over. Christmas day had finally dawned. If any of you have a little “Janie” at home you might try the “dominos treatment.”
But I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Waiting for something good to come is hard, and not just for children. Adults can have a hard time waiting for good things to come as well. This brings us to our final installment in our study of the three wise women of Christmas, because this morning we are focusing on someone who waited a very long time for the first Christmas day to dawn and her name is Anna.
Let me introduce her you. My introduction-my description-must begin with the fact that by the time the first Christmas finally came Anna had lived a very long time. Some Bible translators have gingerly handled their description of Anna’s age by translating verse 36 as, “…she was very advanced in her years greatly.” And they do this because of course it’s never prudent to refer to an elderly female as an “old lady” or an “old woman.” In fact, I’ve learned the hard way that tact dictates I never ask a woman her age. But you may have noticed that the NIV sets tactfulness aside and just kind of blurts out, “she was very old.”
But however you word it, the fact is Anna had been around quite a while. Most biblical scholars have estimated her age anywhere between 84 and 105. That may seem like a wide range so let me explain. The Greek in verse 37 is unclear. It could be translated as either, “she was a widow of 84 years” or “she was a widow for 84 years.” If you opt for the second translation and calculate that if she had married at the customary age of 13 or 14 and been married for 7 years and widowed for 84 years…well that adds up to 104 or 105. But however you translate the Greek, at this time in her life Anna was indeed old-especially in her culture when 50 was considered a ripe old age.
As I said, Anna was a widow and she had been one for a long time, and we need to understand that widowhood in that society was very difficult. It virtually guaranteed a life of extreme poverty. You may remember from your Chronological Bible reading a few days ago, that this is why in the days of the early church Paul urged young widows to remarry so the church was not overly burdened with their support. (1 Timothy 5:14)
Well, for some reason, Anna never did remarry-an unusual decision for someone in her situation to make in that culture. Some think her husband was the love of her life such that she just could not bring herself to share her life with another, but I tend to believe she did this because God told her not to remarry. I think He gave her this command because there was an eternally significant purpose in her long widowhood, and Anna faithfully accepted this as part of God’s plan and devoted her life to His service. I’m sure she understood the principle Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 7:34 when he said, “An unmarried woman is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.”
I don’t know this for a fact but perhaps God used Anna’s example to inspire Paul to write those words! In any case, I’m sure Anna must have led a very frugal, chaste, and sober life. She probably barely eked out a living by relying on charity or by supporting herself out of the meager remnants of her family’s inheritance. And this leads me to point out the place she had chosen for her home. As verse 37 says, “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” This must have been a spectacular place to live because the temple Herod had built in Jerusalem was the jewel of that city. I mean to be sure, Herod was a cruel ruler-but he was also a truly gifted builder, and the temple was one of his greatest architectural achievements because it was an awe-inspiring physical symbol of the one true God and the extraordinary nation He had established through Abraham and Isaac. It is said that on a sunny day, the gold and the white stone of the temple structure shone so brightly that it hurt one’s eyes. And, in Anna’s day it was also one of the world’s busiest places. Literal armies of priests hurried around the temple campus each day attending to their various sacred tasks. Plus, throngs of pilgrims from all over the world were always showing up, eager to see the spectacle and to worship the Lord.
As I said, apparently Anna lived right there on the temple grounds-perhaps in one of the apartments in the outer courts that we read about in Nehemiah 13:7-9. These were very simple, modest rooms, meant to be used as temporary dwelling places for priests, like Zechariah, who lived on the temple grounds while doing their two weeks’ annual service. Perhaps due to her decades of faithfulness to the Lord, temple officials had given Anna one of these small chambers. Maybe in the beginning she even earned her keep by serving as a caretaker of sorts but in our text for today she would have been too old for that task, so once she reached that stage in life the temple officials must have given her the chamber to live in for life to reward her for her faithful labors over the years.
Now, as an aside, I think one thing we can learn from Anna is the importance of orienting our lives around the church. I’m not saying we should actually live here-although some of you are like Anna in that you are so busy in ministry, I think you practically do live here-especially during Advent! But what I am saying is that the local church should be the anchor of our busy schedules in life. The church should be the “hub of our wheel” if you know what I mean. Everything in our lives should revolve around our involvement in our church. After all, this campus is where we find and cultivate friendships with other believers-friends that stick closer than a brother. This is where we bring our children so that the Christian principles we teach them at home can be reinforced by the labors of Sunday school teachers and graded choir leaders and Awana workers. This is where we bring our teens in the hopes that they will find peers who encourage them to grow spiritually. This place is where we are equipped for ministry. An important part of “life”-an essential part of life-happens here on this campus.
I remember about 8 years ago, while on an abbreviated sabbatical, I visited Allen Memorial Baptist Church in Salisbury, Maryland. This church is located right in the downtown area of Salisbury and as I drove up I saw entire families walking to either Allen Memorial or to one of about four churches located within a few blocks of each other. It was a very encouraging thing to see so many people in that community starting their week by going to church. It reminded me of something Norman Rockwell might paint. I thought, “This is a good thing! This has to have a healthy impact on this community.” And you know-the fact is, church attendance does have that kind of effect.
Last week Jennifer Crocker handed me an article from Readers Digest magazine, an article that tells of a study by Daniel Hungerman of the University of Notre Dame and Jonathan Gruber of MIT. These two scientists did research and found that when states dropped their blue laws-remember those old laws that once banned Sunday commerce-laws that once reflected a culture that encouraged church attendance? Well, their study showed that when states dropped blue laws, church attendance dipped by 15% among those who had been going weekly-but that’s not all. Their research also showed that churchgoers became as likely as non-attendees to use drugs, and the gap between the two groups’ heavy-drinking rates closes sharply. Hungerman wisely concluded, “What you do on Sunday morning could make a big difference in how you spend Saturday night.”
And it can-Perhaps Anna’s example can serve to remind us of this important principle of life. So if you’re not an active member of this church…or some church…become one! Anchor your life here and you and your family will be better equipped to withstand the storms of life!
Anna’s dedication to temple life shows us another way she sets a good example for us in that it indicates she didn’t run from God when she ran into the unfairness of life. When she remained childless and then when her young husband died she didn’t respond to the tough times of life by running from God-but rather # Him. Eugenia Price writes, “Anna permitted her heartbreak to force her to God. Those of us who have faced tragedy of any kind-particularly those of you who are widows-know that nothing heals the wounds like being consciously with God.”
Ditchfield writes, “Anna didn’t succumb to the loneliness or a growing sense of futility and despair. She could have, but she didn’t. Instead Anna devoted herself to God. She devoted herself to loving Him, worshiping Him, spending time in His presence.”
And this leads to one other thing I want you to note about Anna. She was a known as a prophetess. She was someone who was known for the way she listened to God’s still small voice, and someone He used to proclaim His Word to others, someone who, like Mary, believed God’s promises.
As the decades passed, Anna’s unwavering faithfulness and devotion to God gradually earned her the respect of the temple community. It became very obvious that this woman had a very special relationship with God. Anna was recognized as a woman of wisdom and understanding such that she was given the rare distinction of being referred to as a prophetess of God. If my research is correct, only a handful of women in the Bible were given this title, so that says something about Anna’s spiritual maturity. People noticed her close relationship with God.
As Luke tells us, when Jesus was about six weeks old, Joseph and Mary brought Him to the temple to observe two ceremonies of the Hebrew faith. One was the Redemption of the First Born, and in it parents acknowledged the fact that every firstborn male belonged to the Lord. In this ceremony parents in essence bought back or “redeemed” their son from God for the price of five shekels. Think of it. They redeemed the Redeemer! The second was the purification of Mary. In this ceremony a sacrifice was offered for the cleansing of the sins of the mother. Mary and Joseph brought two turtle-doves or pigeons, an offering indicative of the fact that they were very poor. And please note-the fact that Mary did this-shows that she realized she was a sinner just like every other human being-in need of a Redeemer-in need of cleansing as much as any woman.
John Hamby writes, “It is ironic that she paid the price for her purification while holding in her arms the Son of God who would one day pay the ultimate price of the ultimate sacrifice so that she and all who would receive Him would receive the ultimate cleansing.”
Well, in her decades of service at the Temple, I’m sure Anna had seen thousands of these ceremonies. But when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus she knew it is the Messiah. Somehow amidst the throngs of people who were on the sprawling temple campus that day she “happened” to walk by this young couple. Perhaps as she did she heard her old friend Simeon’s response that Luke records for us in verses 25-35…but more probably she heard God’s familiar still small voice, and as verse 38 says, “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Anna is only mentioned in these three verses from Luke’s gospel. We never hear anything about her again-even in extra-Biblical literature. This is it. She pops up this moment and then is gone, but her brief moment in the spotlight earns my admiration. I look up to this particular wise woman of Christmas because even though she was “very advanced in her years greatly” she didn’t act that way. Anna didn’t seem old and feeble. Listen as I point out three quick reasons I say this.
(1) First, Anna had excellent eyesight.
Think of it-thousands of priests running around doing God’s business and only Anna and Simeon-two ancient relics that most temple officials probably thought were a bit odd, only they saw the Messiah of God when He arrived. Why? Why did these two old people see what others missed? Well, it wasn’t that other people in Israel weren’t looking for a Messiah. They were, but their spiritual eyesight wasn’t as good as Anna’s because they were looking for the wrong kind of deliverer. For example, the Pharisees believed a great celestial champion would some day come to earth. He would be another king of David’s line who would revive all the glories of the past and free them from Roman bondage and restore the people of Israel as the true masters of the world. On the other hand, The Essenes, the teachers of that day, were looking for someone like Moses to come and teach and enforce the law. But there were also a small group of visionary Hebrews who were known as ‘the quiet in the land’. They had no dreams of violence or of power and of armies with banners or of some great messianic lawgiver. They knew that Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would be a suffering servant who would “…take our infirmities and sorrows upon Himself…” and that He would be “…pierced for our transgressions, for our iniquities, oppressed and afflicted, led like a lamb to the slaughter, assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in His death though He had done no violence nor was any deceit in His mouth.” Well, these ‘quiet ones’ devoted their lives to the study of the Scriptures, constant prayer, and quiet watchfulness until the true Messiah would come. They believed and clung to God’s promise in Proverbs 8:17 when He said, “…those who diligently seek Me will find Me.” And Simeon and Anna were members of this group of Godly people. They put their hope in the kind of Messiah that Scripture foretold, not a ruler of the people of Israel but a redeemer of all mankind.
By the way, the word in Anna’s speech that is used here in verse 38 for “redemption” means “to buy again” and it is found throughout Scripture. It is primarily used to describe the act of freeing a slave. Now there are various Greek words used in the Bible for to depict redemption. One term used is “agorazo” meaning “to be bought in the marketplace.” And in the days of the early church there were about 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire, so about two thirds of the entire population would have understood this word first hand. People were taken to a slave market and auctioned off in the marketplace. Most of them lived their whole lives in bondage. There is, however, another word for “redemption.” It’s “exagorazo” and it is the word used in verse 38 and it means “to be bought out of the marketplace…never to be sold there again.” This is the kind of redemption Anna was talking about in her description of Jesus’ life work. Her life-long study of the Scriptures empowered by nearly a century of prayer and fasting had enabled her to see that the people redeemed by the Messiah would be bought out of slavery to sin never to be sold into it again. They would be free indeed! So when the true Messiah showed up, her excellent eyesight enabled her to see Him and recognize Him. She put her hope in the right kind of Messiah. She saw what others missed due to their spiritual myopia.
On this Christmas Eve, let me ask you, how “young” are your spiritual eyesDo you have a close relationship with God-one that is matured through prayer and Bible study such that you are able to see Him at work and join Him in it? Or are your spiritual eyes “old” such that you miss out on the joy of making an eternal difference in this world?
(2) But not only did Anna have excellent eyesight. She also had a very young heart.
Now, like Anna, all of us age physically. I’m sure she had all the aches and pains that come with old age because all humans do. I don’t want to rub that particular uncomfortable fact in too much, but you “mature” adults out there know what I’m talking about. And don’t tune me out if you’re young, because you won’t be young forever! If you’re my age or older then you know there was a time when we were young and it seemed we would always be that way, but then certain things in life began to happen that reminded us that we are not immortal.
In her poem “Mid-life Crisis” Penny Laubenthal refers to this. She writes:
"Everyone I know is thirty-five.
Donna in my writing class is thirty-five,
Melissa the artist, is thirty-five.
Last night when I lay sleepin,
someone slipped in and scribbled lines all over my face,
stuck bags under my eyes, packed cellulite on my thighs
This morning my mother’s hand reached to get my toothbrush
An unfamiliar face stared back at me from the vanity.
Someone else’s stomach protruded from beneath my belt.
The kudzu of middle age has overtaken me.
Cholesterol clogs my arteries like milfoil on the Tennessee River. Yesterday I was thirty-five. Today I am forty-five.
I had intended to age elegantly…grow lean like Louis Nevelson,
craggy like O’Keeffe, not squat like Gertrude Stein.
Tomorrow I am going to buy a new mirror,
have my hair dyed, phone for a face lift.
Meanwhile I am going to claim that my children
belong to my husband from a former marriage.
And I am going to lie, shamelessly about my age;
I am going to say, I am only thirty five.”
Well, we can lie about our age all we want but it won’t stop our bodies from growing older and beginning to break down-including our mental faculties, faculties that begin fail as the decades fly by-such that we experience what is referred to as “senior moments” when for the life of us we can’t remember something.
This week I came across a story about two couples who had been friends for years who were taking a break from their weekly card game. The wives were in the kitchen, while the men had stayed in the den. One man said: “Joe, you played a great game tonight. I usually have to remind you what cards have been played, but tonight I didn’t have to.” “Well that’s because I went to memory school” said Joe. “Really?” his friend asked. “What’s the name of that school?” Joe thought for a minute and said, “Let me see. Umm…uh…what do you call that flower that’s red, with thorns on the stem?” “A rose?” “Yes! That’s it!” Then he turned toward the kitchen and said, “Hey Rose! What was the name of that memory school I went to?”
Well, we all age. All of us grow old physically, but our “hearts”…our attitudes…our mind set doesn’t have to! We don’t stop living just because our bodies start to decline. Remember. As humans we have eternal souls, so youth is an attitude of the heart not a condition of the body.
When he was 78 General Douglas MacArthur said, “Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul.”
And Anna is someone who understood this principle because in spite of the advanced age of her body-her heart was very young-ready and willing for any adventure God sent her way! Perhaps the Holy Spirit used the memory of her life to inspire Paul in another one of his letters-the one he wrote to the church in Corinth when he said, “We do not lose heart, though our outer man is decaying, because our inner man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) And it is renewed day by day as we experience the adventure of joining God in His great work.
The world defines the “prime of life” different from the way God does. The world sees it as that season when we are most physically strong and mentally acute. But God sees it as that season when we are most spiritually strong and intellectually humbled. The world considers us in our prime when we have the greatest fame with others. The Bible sees it as when we most want to please God. The world defines our prime as when we are in the best position to build our own empire. Scripture defines it as when we are most focused on advancing the Kingdom of God, most sensitive to the leading of God’s Spirit-as Anna certainly was. She was definitely in her prime and so was “old” Simeon! They were both very young at heart. And because they were, at a time when most people considered them only as candidates for a rest home, God chose them to do one of the most important tasks ever performed in history. With a spiritual power born by years of cultivation, this elderly pair passed on a blessing that in a sense primed the pump of Jesus’ earthly mission. They named the Gift that Jesus was, equipped His parents for what lay ahead, and spoke about the child to all who were looking for redemption.
David Jeremiah writes, “For years people would relive this remarkable day at the Temple-the day the Messiah arrived. But the joyful message came through channels no one expected-not through the priests or the crowd favorites but through two old, forgotten relics of good, old-time religion.”
I came across a statement this week in my study that reminds me of Anna and her friend Simeon: “Beautiful young people are acts of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” Well, let me ask you. How healthy is your “heart?” Would people say you are in the prime of life spiritually, or past it?
On November 18, 1995, the Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman came out on stage at New York’s Lincoln Center-and just getting on stage is no small matter for him. Stricken with polio as a child, Perlman wears braces on both legs and walks with two crutches so to see him come across the stage is a sight you don’t forget. He moves painfully, but with dignity, until he gets to his chair. He sits down slowly, lays his crutches aside, undoes the clasps on his braces, tucks one foot back and stretches the other forward. Then he reaches down, picks up his violin, notches it under his chin, nods to the maestro, and begins to play. On this particular occasion, however, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first stanza, a string on Perlman’s violin broke. You could hear it snap, going off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. People who were there that night later said: “We figured that he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches, and limp his way off stage.or else wait for someone to bring him another [string or violin].” But Perlman didn’t. Instead, he paused for a moment, closed his eyes, and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra recommenced, and he joined them where he’d left off. He played with a passion, power, and purity like that audience had never heard before. Of course, all of them knew that it’s impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. But that night, that player refused to know that. Someone commented, “You could see him modulating, changing, re-composing the piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was re-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them they had never made before.” When Perlman finished there was an awesome silence in the room and then suddenly, the audience exploded to its feet. Another individual present that day said, “We were all.screaming and cheering, doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done.” Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet the audience, and then said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone: “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
Well, let me ask those of us who are approaching or who even now are in the last quarter of our lives. How are you using what you have left? And those of you who are still young physically-don’t tune me out because before you know it you’ll be past your 50th birthday…or your 60th…or your 70th. As I said, back when we were all about five minutes younger than we are now, we all age! Even now, the end of physical life is coming very quickly. And we all must keep in mind that people don’t remember how we ran the race of life as much as they do how we finished it! We must remember that as Isaiah 40:30-31 says, “Even youths grow weary and tired and vigorous young men stumble badly, but those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength… they will mount up with wings like eagles… they will run and not get weary. They will walk and not faint.”
We keep our hearts young…we stay in our prime…as long as, like Anna, we wait on the Lord and rely on His strength and direction!
(3) This brings me to the final thing I admire about Anna. She was a great runner.
As I said a moment ago, once she saw Jesus she didn’t stop going to people and telling them that the Messiah-the long-awaited Redeemer-had finally come. Verse 38 says, “She talked about Jesus to everyone who had been waiting for the promised King to come and deliver Jerusalem.” I bet that like Santa, Anna had been keeping a list-a list of people whom she considered to be fellow waiters in their prime-people like herself with great eyesight and young hearts who had been looking for and longing for the true Messiah. So as soon as she got done with Simeon and Mary and Joseph and the baby she went and found her people and told all those receptive people about what she had just seen.
But you know, I seriously doubt that she stopped with the people on her list because the verb for “talked” in verse 38 denotes continuous action. So, I believe that from that moment until the day she drew her final breath Anna could be seen jogging around the temple buttonholing people left and right, talking non-stop about what she had seen. And I think people listened. I mean, if she had been twenty Anna’s words might have been easily dismissed as the illusion of idealistic youth. But at 84 or 104 Anna was past all that. Her lifetime of faithful devotion could not be disregarded. Her spiritual insight and wisdom could not be denied. Now she had an audience and it was her time to speak. Her testimony was not unlike that of the psalmist who wrote: “But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more! My mouth will tell of Your righteousness, of your salvation all day long. Since my youth O God, You have taught me, and to this day I declare Your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare Your power to the next generation, Your might to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:14-15)
Well, are you a dedicated runner? Regardless of your physical age, are you ready and raring to tell anyone who will listen about the love of Jesus? Remember Isaiah 52:7 tells us that no matter how old and decrepit the body may look… “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation!”
Father God, Thank You for Anna, and the example this wise woman gives. In this time of decision convict us of the ways we need to be more like her. Heal eyes so we can see You at work around us. Strengthen hearts, rejuvenate our thinking such that we will be eager to follow Your will and make an eternal difference in this temporary world. And give us all opportunities to bring good new, proclaim peace, and proclaim the salvation that is only available through the Christ of Christmas.
In Jesus’ name I pray. AMEN