Thursday, December 23, 2010

*Last night we had our annual Christmas Reading and it was truly a wonderful time reading and re-visiting the Christmas story together!  It is a great joy to serve with such committed, caring and creative people!  Since I have been fairly immersed in the Christmas story, especially the cast of characters that cross the stage of Christ’s birth and entrance into this world, I thought I would share with you one that particularly touched my heart.  I don’t think I had fully examined the life of this fascinating individual before last night.  I am passing it on to you in a mostly unedited version of last night’s performance.

Finally, tonight, we’ve all heard the saying that “Christmas is for the children.”  I’m sure that is definitely true, at least from a secular or cultural perspective.  There’s no doubt that their anticipation, their delight and their wonder brings something special to the season.  I am grateful for that feature.  But, I’d like to point out that in God’s Christmas, some of the major beneficiaries and contributors were...the elderly!  I’m sure you might not have considered this before.  We know Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless you are converted and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.18:3)  That’s why we’ve emphasized having the “heart of a child” as one of the spiritual high points of life.  Let’s not forget, though, that just as important is the devotion of the elderly!  Those who through the inevitable process of getting older, have been faithful to God:  through all the years, through all the battles, through all the highs and lows of life, they still have a vibrant faith and hope in God!

It’s here in our story that we are introduced to a woman who’s been called one of the “3 Wise Women of Christmas.” Her name is Anna.  We have a brief, but beautiful, biography of her life is in (Lk.2:36-38) “Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”  Ah, yes, Anna.  We generally only think of her in connection with Simeon in the Christmas story. While there is definitely a shared hope in the promises of God, Anna has her own story to tell.  She had gotten married with all the dreams and hopes of a good life, but after only 7 years her husband died.  Life changed drastically for her, and now she was faced with the decision of “what do I do with my life now?”  Do I spend all my time and energy in hopes of finding another husband?  That certainly would not have been wrong, but Anna came to the conclusion that the best way for her to spend her life would be devoted to loving and serving God.  Her goal became to stay as close to God as possible, which is why “she did not depart from the temple, but served God with fasting’s and prayers night and day.”  Everyone knew that she loved the house of God and the people of God.  She was a regular in the temple settings.  Now, well over 60 years has passed since that original life decision, and she’s 84 years old when she makes her entrance on to the Christmas stage!

Anna possessed one of the things that God prizes the most: a heart of devotion!  Fortunately, there is no age limit when it comes to devotion.  Hers was a devotion that did not quickly fizzle out but, persevered though the loss of a husband and the uncertainty that brought with it.  It was a devotion that continued through the long years of waiting as she clung to the promises of God as utterly reliable... even when other’s zeal for God had grown cold.  Anna’s testimony is the story of faithfulness rewarded!  This devotion is what kept her so in tune with God since the Bible records, “coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Israel.”  Talk about being in the right place at the right time!  Even if her role in the sacred drama was brief a brief one, Anna savored the richness of seeing God’s promise fulfilled! 
In spite of what the world may think, Anna was not passed her prime, at least not in God’s eyes.  She was able to bring a “word in season” and her testimony carried the weight, and wisdom and worth of a life devoted and well-lived for God!

The unparalleled  message of Christmas is not just God reaching down to the lowest, but also God reaching out to the forgotten and the marginalized.  Anna certainly qualified here: first, she was old, strike one...next, she was a woman, which back then was strike two...and finally, she was widowed, strike three!  One of the most poignant prayers about old age is (Ps.71:9) that says, “And now, in my old age, don't set me aside.  Don't abandon me when my strength is failing.”  One of the many challenges of growing old is the fear that your best days have come and gone, and there’s nothing left but to be put on the shelf, and life now is nothing more than just watching from the sidelines.  Anna lets us know that as people age, they still have a place; they can still be useful for many tasks that God has for them.  They still retain their value!  That’s why someone has written the true words, “Beautiful young people are acts of nature, but beautiful old people are works of (God’s) art.”

Note: I’m sure there’s much more here, but this wonderful cameo we have of her life speaks to many today (if you’ve looked in the mirror, you, too, are getting older).  This was “confirmed” to me in a very specific way that had “God” written all over it.  Two weeks ago, I was preaching in Hesperia, CA for pastor George Neos.  I was facing the deadline of completing the script for this Christmas Reading.  On Sunday morning, I went across the street to Starbucks with my notes with me to work on this, as I drank my tall, triple-shot, sugar-free vanilla latte (extra hot).  There was a man next to me with his laptop open and a journal open, and I sort of knew he was a Christian.  I asked him if this was true and he told me yes, and we talked a little bit about our shared faith in Jesus Christ.  I told him that I was writing a script for our Christmas drama, and especially the scene about Anna.  He asked me if I would send him a copy of it when I was done, and I said, of course.  When I finished it a week ago, I sent it off to him.  I was blessed when he replied, thanks, and told me that he would be reading this to his 84-year old mother on Christmas Day!  Christmas is not just for the children.  Christmas is also for all the Anna’s in our world who love the Lord Jesus Christ! God bless you all, and have a Merry Christmas!

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