You’d think around Christmas the Almighty would have more important things to worry about than a young preacher agonizing over a biblical text.
This was some three decades back. The preacher’s text was for the day after Christmas, a Sunday.
With the full crèche of Christmas characters already paraded before the faithful, the young fella found himself stuck with Anna, an old woman whom Luke dates as either 84 years old or more than a century—the Greek is ambiguous. The preacher was too green to have built up a repertoire and bereft of any inspiration or energy for the task at hand. He breathed a despairing, plea to the Almighty.
No Gabriel appeared with flaming sword to strike the preacher mute. His own procrastination had rendered him more than sufficiently speechless, oblivious to what the Word right in front of him was saying.
Yet despite having many more important things to do, God answered. The preacher still sees it as a genuine miracle—the way the light suddenly flashed into his desperate dullness. The Word burst into life quite apart from any merit or creative genius on his part. It was a gift from above, plain and simple.
I’d plodded through the passage 20 times—Greek, English, annotated, commentated. But this time I tripped over a genealogical detail I’d overlooked.
Anna, co-witness to the presentation of the Messiah at the temple, was from the tribe of Asher. Where did that come from?
Because of their endless rebellion God had disinherited Israel, as he’d warned often enough. The 10 northern tribes, including Asher, went first, then Benjamin/Judah. Only a shattered remnant of the latter ever returned to linger on under cruel, foreign domination. Those 10 tribes were annihilated—gone, all gone.
So how did this senior citizen end up at the temple? Anna “never left . . . but worshiped there with fasting and prayer day and night” (Luke 2:37). A lone “blast from the past” in the centuries-long gloom of God’s righteous judgment over a splintered people. But still calling out every day and night for God. Goodness! Faith is tough!
And God hears, remembers, responds. God takes this living relic, shows her the Messiah, and makes her an official witness to us all.
Through Anna, God reaches back through the centuries and allows the 10 tribes of Israel, too, to bear witness to the Light of God’s Salvation. They too participate in the Messianic Age promised so long ago.
Through Anna’s witness the 10 tribes did not live in vain. They mattered. They made a difference. Through her they, too, become reinstated in God’s good graces. Because Anna is there, all Israel is represented at the Messiah’s dedication.
A much older preacher now, still so unforgivably blind to the Word in front of him, is, nevertheless, also invited to discover the goodness of Jesus the Messiah. So are you, however bright your intellect or dim your soul may be.
See the Wonder. Behold the Light. Like Anna, “praise God and . . . speak about the child to all who [are] looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38). Preach it, sister, brother! And never underestimate the importance of an old woman.
Have a wonder-full Christmas.