Series: The Characters of Christmas
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 10, 2000
I invite you to turn with me to Luke 2:36-38 which is our Scripture passage for today.
Several years ago - while I was working with Camp AREV - we were doing a camp where we were providing the food service. It was an Armenian group and so the food we were preparing was Armenian. At that time, we had an American couple working with us - that in all fairness - even though they tried - they just didn’t understand Armenians - and in this case - Armenian food.
I’d bought several packages of “tell baneer” - string cheese - and had given them to this American lady to open - to pull apart - cut and prepare to serve. About a hour later I came in to the kitchen to see how things were going and I knew something was terribly wrong the second I walked in. This poor American lady was really agitated - nervous - visibly upset. So, I asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Well,” she said, “you wouldn’t believe the quality of this cheese! All these little black seeds someone left in here. Its taken me an hour to get all of them out.”
What we’re looking at - last week and this week - is a whole lot more important than “sev gundeeg” - those black seeds. There are a tremendous number of people - even some Christians - who simply do not understand Christmas. They celebrate the season - give gifts - attend church - sing carols - talk about God’s love and peace on earth and loving each other. But, they’ve missed what Christmas is all about.
We’ve been looking at two individuals who understood Christmas. Last week we looked at Simeon and this week we want to look at Anna. Because, we want to understand - to prepare our hearts to celebrate and to know God’s presence in our lives.
Coming to Luke 2, 41 days after Jesus was born - Joseph, Mary, and Jesus have come to the Temple in Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord and to offer the sacrifice required by the law. Jesus is among many children being offered. There are a large number of people making sacrifices for various reasons. Many different spiritual traditions and rituals are being conducted.
In the midst of all this religious activity, Simeon - a man who knew God - who had heard God and understood what God was doing - came by the leading of the Holy Spirit - up to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus and declared that Mary’s child was the One he had been waiting for - the One through whom all peoples of the world were to blessed. The child born in Bethlehem - presented in the Temple - is the Savior of the world.
Luke 2:36: And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment - just as Simeon finished his declaration - at that very moment she came up - undoubtedly led by God - and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Thinking through what it means to understand Christmas - there are two things about Anna that we need to specifically notice. The first is HOW SHE RESPONDED TO THE TRAGIC CIRCUMSTANCES OF HER LIFE.
Anna had been married for 7 years. Then she lived around 60 years as a widow. Its significant that Anna was not bitter - not angry - not consumed by her tragic circumstances. If anyone had the right to be, she did.
Anna was widowed in her early 20’s - widowed in a culture that provided few possibilities or security for widows. No children are mentioned who could have taken care of her. Which means either she didn’t have any or they had abandoned her. And getting married again? Who would marry her - this 20 some year old widow of another man? So much for the dream of a life long partnership and love. That day in the Temple - at the age of 84 - she was alone.
Many people have spent their lives bitter because of far less. When I visit people who are advanced in age - often in their last years - sometimes their last hours of life - its sad how many are angry and deeply bitter - churning inside over wrongs suffered over the years.
For most people, the conclusion I’ve come to - and I’m not alone is this conclusion - is that who we are inside - how we have lived our lives inwardly where no one sees - when we get to the place when we can no longer control our actions and hide behind a mask - that inner part of us comes out. Looking deep with ourselves, that’s a very sobering thought.
But, Anna understood Christmas - that Jesus has come - not just to fulfill prophecy - not just to open a door to heaven - but to change human hearts. That’s where God works - in our hearts - deep inside with who we really are.
Anna had a choice - as each of us has a choice. She could have wallowed in bitterness and self-pity. But, we find Anna - day and night - serving in the Temple. She’s fasting and praying - focused on deepening her relationship with God. She’s so in tune with who God is and what God is doing - that amidst all the religious confusion of the Temple - only she and Simeon recognize Jesus for who He is. God has worked - is working - a miracle of transformation in her heart.
Many - perhaps you - live in homes that are filled with tension - anger - unresolved issues - struggles. The situation at work is an ongoing burden. Many are tired of just being tired. Many have broken hearts - finding it so easy to cry. Which way do we turn?
In John 14:27, Jesus said, “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid.”
That peace comes directly to us from God - via Bethlehem - through Jesus Christ. If we choose to let Him, Jesus will come into our hearts and fill us with Himself. He - God - can come into our hearts and change us and renew us from the inside out - transform our lives - our homes - our attitudes at work - produce in us a new love for our spouse - heal our families - bring inner peace and true hope to our lives.
In the midst of tragedy, Anna chose to let God have control of her heart.
Second, thinking through what it means to understand Christmas - we need to notice that ANNA SHARED THE MESSAGE OF GOD’S SALVATION.
In Luke 13 there’s an account of Jesus teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus was speaking with the people there when He became aware of a woman in the crowd. This woman had been sick - suffering with a crippling disease for 18 years.
When Jesus saw her, He called her over to Himself - put His hand on her - and said to her, “Woman, you are free from your sickness!” And immediately she straightened herself up - completely healed - and began to praise God.
When the men in charge of the synagogue saw what had happened they became very angry because Jesus had healed this woman on the Sabbath. And they began to explain to the crowd just what Jesus had done wrong.
They said, “There are six days in which we should work; so come during those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath.”
Jesus answers them, “You hypocrites! Any one of you would take his ox or donkey out to give it water on the Sabbath - what about this woman - one of God’s own people who’s been sick for 18 years - why shouldn’t she be healed on the Sabbath? What’s more important a donkey or a human being?” (Luke 13:10-17)
These synagogue leaders were so wrapped up in their own understanding of what God could do and when - their religious traditions and understandings of things - that they completely misunderstood what God was doing. Jesus holds up the entirety - all of the potential - of what God is doing and can do in our lives - holds it right up in front of the faces of these synagogue officials - and says here it is. And their response? Sorry, we just don’t see it. It doesn’t fit our understanding of things.
Today, so many misunderstand Christmas because they’re focused on everything but what God desires to do in our hearts. Its so easy to look back through 2,000 years of Church history with all of our theology and traditions and institutions and the symbols of our faith - even the beauty and warmth of this season - and think that this is Christianity.
But, Jesus came for people - to renew our relationship with God - to change hearts - to bring true peace and healing to our lives. Christianity is the relationship of people who have surrendered their lives to God through Jesus Christ. People in whom He has worked and is working deep inner spiritual transformation.
Thinking about our nation - Apostolic or Evangelical - even after 1700 years of being Christian - too many rarely - if ever - come to a church - maybe at Christmas and Easter or some special occasion. People who are trusting in external religion - in tradition - in ethnicity - just as people were in Anna’s day. But, they don’t know Jesus and the reality of what God can do in their lives.
Who will share Jesus with them if we don’t? Who will pray for them - with them - if we don’t. Who will invite them to come and hear His Gospel if we don’t?
A few years ago I was driving up I-5 from Los Angeles. It was late at night - very dark - one of those sections where there’s a lot of nothing. Suddenly, in the distance there was a burst of bright white light - and then blackness.
About ten minutes later - when I got to where the flash had been - traffic had slowed to a crawl. From what I could see, on the side of the road there’d been a fire. There were a lot of emergency vehicles - cars pulled to the side of the road - the flashing of emergency lights - lots of people standing around - and downed power lines - stretched across the road.
Later I found out that a pilot and his friend were flying north in their Cessna. Low on fuel - they were in contact by radio with a trucker below. The trucker was helping to guide them to the airport a few miles ahead. Apparently they didn’t see the high voltage power lines. They flew right into these suspended lines - the plane exploded and they were killed.
We never know when we’ll enter eternity. Our family and friends - how much time do they have left? Whether or not we have opened our hearts to Jesus as our Savior has consequences for our lives today and will determine where we will spend eternity.Anna was a small voice - there in the Temple - a small voice proclaiming God’s salvation to a nation wrapped up in the performance of religious duties - to a society that had no clue as to what God was really doing - and yet desperately needed to know. Who are we? But, if we have opened our hearts to God - if we do know His life and work in us - then He will use us to share the true meaning of Christmas. And, how can we not share?