I am reminded when Esther, our oldest was born. Sally’s mother had come from California. The truth is that Sally and I are private people. I may stand in a public setting every week but there is much you do not know about our family life because we are both introverts. A few days after Esther was born we went to Bellis Fair with her very proud grandmother. I will never forget strolling through the mall, and Lucia is so excited about Esther, she starts telling every stranger we meet, “This is my grandchild… this is my new grandchild…” and she tries to strike up conversations with people we’d never met….
Anna is excited to tell people about Jesus. “At last…” It reminds me of Adam when he first meets Eve, “At last..” a cry of completion, a rightness, a goodness… Jesus is 40 days old. His parents take him to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate him to the Lord. Mary knew there was something amazing about her son, but she was not able to fathom it all. First Simeon in last weeks message meets the Holy Family, and her prophesies about the pain and suffering that will be coming to Jesus and to his mother Mary, READ Luke 2:34b-35. Simeon prophecies from the cradle to the cross in a word of preparation. The path of Christ is not an easy path, and it is not easy for those who choose to follow Jesus Christ. The cross is the path.
Now it is Anna’s turn. She sees from the Cradle through the Cross to the Crown. The cradle is a wonderful expression of love as God sends his one and only son into the world, born of the virgin Mary. Go deeper in wisdom and understanding, from the cradle to the cross, the messy cross, the cross of pain and suffering, the hurts, the forgiveness of sins, that is the second stage of the love of Christ, for it involves the penalty of sin and the forgiveness of sins. And for those who are able to weather the storms, the pains, the griefs… to see beyond the cross, to see the reward, a simple faith, a simple love. This is the elderly Anna, a woman with a simple faith who has been through the storms of life… She sees beyond the cross and focuses on Salvation of Christ, the joy of abundant living. At 84/104 years of age, she is just beginning. From the Cradle to the Cross and to the ultimate stage of faith: the Crown.
Surely this is why older people have so much life and so much to share. How often it seems the people who have lived the most have the most to offer because they see with the most clarity the things of God ~ they can see the Crown of Christ.
It is our privilege this Christmas Season to live the lesson of Anna and tell others about Christ and the Salvation that he offers. A few lessons:
~ Be at home with God. Anna is at least 84 years old when she holds the baby Jesus in her arms, and possibly as much as 104 (talk about that in a bit). She is described in Luke 2:36 as the daughter of Penuel, the tribe of Asher… BTW, it’s subtle, but the history of Israel is that 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the northern tribes were destroyed by the Assyrians in what we often refer to as the “lost tribes.” But here is Anna from the tribe of Asher, one of the “lost tribes.” Anna is not lost, she is HOME.
Anna seemed to literally live in the temple. The temple is an enormous structure which is like a city by itself. There were actually apartments in the temple and while it would be unusual for a widow to be granted such a living accommodation, it is possible. I don’t want anyone to live in the church building, although a couple of years ago I got a phone call from a man in Canada that got a temporary job in the U.S. and he asked about setting up a bed in one of the Sunday School rooms. I said no, that’s not something we could do. For Anna, her devotion to God is commendable, worshipped night and day, fasting and praying, it says in Luke 2:37… a way of life, her disciplines… Andy said to me yesterday when he was cooking for the men’s breakfast that he used to wonder what it meant when people talked about serving God, and as he is taking more responsibility with the food he is realizing is not doing it for me, not for himself, but truly for God…. We are not called to duplicate the forms of the faithful saints of the Bible, but the spirit, the attitudes, the purposeful and deliberate decisions. Anna is at home with God in the temple…. To be at home in the Lord in whatever form our lives take is awesome and amazing and a privilege.
~ Another lesson from Anna: Instead of looking backwards with regret, look forward with hope! There were many things in Anna’s life that were disappointing. She lost her husband at a very early age, and she had no children. Her world was very much a male-dominated one where women were expected to be silent and unobtrusive. As a widow with no children she was limited in ways to support herself. But she does not live with regrets, she is focused on God, focused on the future…
Living without regrets could change the way we live. Think of the wasted energy we expend on regret. “IF ONLY ____ fill in the blank. Yes, there is a time to grieve, but yet at some point, the losses we suffer often change us, yet when grief defines/consumes us we forego the opportunity to truly live again. Although Anna knew heartache and loss, she focused on hope. When Paul wrote his first letter to the young Timothy he identified himself as, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1). That is how Anna lived her life, waiting patiently for Christ who is our hope. What an awesome life to define ourselves not by what once was, not by the grief of the past, but by the crown of salvation that is coming in Jesus Christ. HOPE. If the Christmas season and the birth of Christ does not stir up hope and optimism, then we have missed the message.
~ Another lesson: Be a person of faith for the long run. faith is a marathon not a sprint. Anna is very old, she lives of life of disadvantage….a lack of worldly advantages, but NOT a lack of faith in the Lord “she never left the temple…, but worshipped the Lord…”
The scripture speaks of Anna’s age. READ Luke 2:36b-37a… It was common in those days for girls marry at age 13, as young as 12, likely no older than 14. She was married for 7 years when her husband died; she never remarried and had no children… Likely a widow at the age of about 20. The original language is not clear, she is now either 84 years old, or it could be interpreted she lived another 84 years after her husband died which would make her about 104 years old. Anna has waited a long lifetime for this moment.
Be committed to God for the long run, looking forward. I think of the faithful people in this church when I was a child, people who shaped me not as much by what they did as their wonderful faithful character: Ruth Hill, Arvilla Allingham, Nora Larson, Jenny Hanson, Clara Miller…. And today, I see the same high character people today but I dare not give a list… people who are faithful, consistent, dedicated, the prayer warriors, the world needs people of depth, people of deep devotion, people who are dependable. Be a person of hope and fiath for the long run. The world needs consistent faithful people. Your friends, your children, your grandchildren need you just to be an example of living with HOPE and Expectation, looking beyond the cradle, beyond the cross and seeing the Crown of Salvation.
~ A Final point: People will hear the message of salvation when they are ready to hear. Anna goes from the cradle to the cross to the Crown as she can see the reward of following Christ and Salvation. Sometimes I get discouraged when I wonder why more people don’t seem to hear the message of Christ, the message of peace and wholeness found only in Christ. This is what the Bible says about Anna’s message: READ Luke 2:38. To Whom did Anna speak the message of Salvation. Not everyone. Only those who “were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” In other words, only those who were ready to hear. Not everyone is ready to hear the message of salvation. People will hear the message of salvation when they are ready to hear. We must not get discouraged feeling like nobody is listening, feeling like you make no difference. It’s not up to me when people are able to hear. When the time is right, the people in your life will hear. This is why it is so important to never give up, to be in it for the long run, to leave it up to God, to keep looking forward with hope and not get discouraged.
Anna has the final word in the stories of the baby Jesus, and the final word is encouragement to share the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ. Anne sees beyond the stable, beyond the cradle, beyond the Cross and takes us to the Crown, the Salvation of Jesus Christ. Like Anna, be at home with God, don’t dwell on past regrets but look forward with hope, be a person of faith for the long run. People will hear when they are ready to hear. Amen.