“Oh no, not Christmas again!”
After twenty-nine ‘ministry Christmases’, I’m writing this post to try to answer the question, ‘How can we remain fresh and enthusiastic at the prospect of preparing for carol services and Christmas talks yet again?’
I think I might have found the answer in the story of an elderly woman in Luke’s gospel. Her name, you may remember, is Anna. We come across her in chapter two.
We read that ‘she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.’ Life can’t have been easy for her, living with the pain and loneliness of bereavement for most of her life. Perhaps it was poverty and childlessness that initially led her to live each day in the security of the temple, where she ‘worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.’
But what could possibly have persuaded her to persevere so faithfully for so long? Perhaps the answer lies in the details that Luke includes in verse 36.
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher.
Names in Jewish life carried great significance, and these particular names seem to take on added weight as we read the story. When translated, they can be rendered as follows:
There was a prophet, Grace, the daughter of Face of God, of the tribe of Happy.
First, we read that Anna was a prophet—the Lord chose her to be a recipient and a conduit of his word. Second, we read that her name is Grace. It’s clear elsewhere in Scripture that those who receive and pass on the word of the Lord demonstrate grace in action. For example, the apostles ‘bore witness to the word of [God’s] grace’ (Acts 14.3). In addition, Paul commended the Ephesian elders, ‘to God and the word of his grace which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified’ (Acts 20.32). Ultimately, of course, Jesus Christ is the Word who is ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14).
So now as we read this section again, we see that her life and testimony give new meaning to these names. For Anna, receiving the word of the Lord allowed her, in some sense, to see the Face of God (albeit veiled) and her obedient life had sustained her in happiness throughout her long life.
Yet more is taking place.
As a prophet, she was able to perceive that something very special was happening:
Coming up to them [Joseph, Mary and Jesus] 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.
With prophetic insight, Anna sees who this 8-day-old baby is. She ‘sees’ with prophetic insight—a moment of immense significance for her. And not just for her. We’re told that she spoke to ‘all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.’ Faithful Jews, gathered in Jerusalem, were yearning for the day when the Lord God would send his Messiah and redeem his people—much as we yearn for the day when the Lord will return to establish his new creation.
And now here he is. The Redeemer. The Messiah. In Simeon’s arms. Just feet away.
To give thanks to God.
May I encourage you to do the same?
In the midst of the busyness and even (dare I say?) the repetitiveness of Christmas preparation, take time to stop and give thanks to God for the Lord Jesus. This is especially important for those with busy schedules. For only when we ourselves draw near to give thanks and worship can we follow in Anna’s footsteps, and do so with integrity.
For we read that she ‘spoke about the child.’
That’s what leaders do at Christmas services. They speak about Jesus. This is their divine calling.
I remember a story about Billy Graham who was once speaking at a Cambridge mission. The first evening he tried to impress the students with an academic sermon, but it was a flop. Afterwards, he asked John Stott for advice. Stott told him to do what he had been doing throughout his life as an evangelist—just speak simply and straightforwardly about the Lord Jesus. So that’s what he did, and many students came to faith through his words.
We may not be famous. We don’t have name recognition like Billy Graham or John Stott. And our story isn’t recorded in Scripture like the prophet Anna’s.
But we can speak about Jesus.
We can celebrate his birth, and share the good news of love come down. And as we do so, we can pray for the Holy Spirit to take our words and touch the hearts of those whom the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ‘chose before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight’ (Eph 1.4).