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The Sweet Old Lady of Christmas
How many of you get to see grandparents this Christmas? Don’t you love fun, full-of-life, creative grandparents? A lot of older saints erode with age into curmudgeons, who point out everything that’s wrong, point out how things were better in their day, and lose all joy from everyday life. But growing older doesn’t mean life is over.
Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain at 81. Robert Frost was writing poems until his 80’s. Frank Lloyd Wright was designing buildings at 86. And John Wesley was preaching at 88. I want to be a fun grandpa who is an example, a source of wisdom, creativity, adventure, God’s Word and love.
I want to be the grandparent who grows better, not bitter. I want to be the grandparent who turns sweeter, not sour–not drippy, insincere, or non-confrontive, but full of conviction, fun, wisdom and inventiveness. You learn things when you get older–you really do.
I know how to cook tofu now—in only two steps. Step 1) throw it in the trash, and step 2) cook some meat. I learn one new thing every day and forget five others. I can do a week’s worth of cardio just by walking into a spider web–cause when you’re over the hill, you start picking up speed.
There are saints who grow sweeter as they grow older. We have a bunch at our church–some who greet others, hand out lollipops to kids. They delight in youth, but offer wisdom to our church family. And one of those super sweet, “everyone loves”, deeply godly grandparents was deeply involved in the original Christmas story. Who was it?
Open your Bibles to Luke chapter 2. The Roman Empire controls the world. Caesar is on the throne in Israel, the Jewish religious elite have everyone burdened under the weight of phony, external, empty, legalistically oppressive religion. Yet there were a few in the midst of it who exercised faith and a trust that God would provide salvation. So . . .
The time was right. Galatians 4:4, “…when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.” God was born as a man. Jesus Christ–100% God and 100% man in one person without confusion. Jesus Christ, the Creator of the universe became a baby. That baby was God in the flesh–God in a bod. Mary cradled her Creator in her arms.
And one person from the Christmas event, more than any other, understood who this baby really was. She happens to be the oldest person in the Christmas saga. The grandma everyone loved–her name was Anna. Look at Luke 2:36 to 38. The oldest but wisest person in God’s Christmas cast receives only three verses in Luke’s long account of Jesus’ birth.
Luke writes these words about her, “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 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36 to 38).
Here’s a grandma who was certainly beloved by the people who visited the temple. You didn’t avoid her, you sought her out. She didn’t predict the future as a prophetess, but God used her to speak His Word to people in the temple. Her name comes from Hannah, which means grace. You already like her, don’t you?
Her family has had a difficult history—they have been tested. Being from the tribe of Asher means her relatives were taken captive by the feared and brutal Assyrians, but many of them returned from torture and followed the one true God. She was married and then widowed for many years. She was old–she could have been in her late 90s, even 100.
She lived in one of the apartments attached to the temple, and probably ate from the food given to the priests. But she wasn’t idle, lazy or looking to retire. She served all the time, night and day–fasting, praying and sharing God’s Word to those who came to worship. Anna was all in. Words that described her are joy, hope, encouragement, faith, service, worship and devout.
And Luke tells us she understood more about the full significance of the coming of Christ than any of the others who appear in the nativity narratives. Why is this important today? Because so few church-going people understand what it means to be a genuine Christian. They think a Christian is something you do Instead of something only God can do for you.
They think being a Christian is from birth, instead of something that is from new birth. They think being a Christian is being a nice person, instead of being transformed by God into a new person. Being a Christian is not only believing Christ is God who died on the cross from your sins, rose from the dead, but also means being born again–changed in such a way where you are dramatically transformed internally with different motives, desires, hopes, dreams, desires.
True believers don’t grind out living Christian-ly. Genuine believers want to follow Christ from the heart. Christmas is not about presents, trees, or family. Christmas is about when God was born a man so He could rescue you from certain judgment from God Himself. This is what Christmas points to. So what can Grandma Anna teach us? Three profound truths . . .
#1 THE PURPOSE OF CHRISTMAS: REDEMPTION
Anna knew the purpose of the coming of Christ. This Godly prophetess understood that the infant Jesus was the redeemer God had promised Israel. Look at verse 38, “And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Imagine waiting your entire life for the Redeemer, the Savior, the one who could finally and forever forgive sin, the only one who could provide abundant life now, the only one who could deliver you from God’s wrath and rescue you from Hell, the only one who can make it possible for you to go to Heaven.
And then after a lifetime of waiting, one day finally he shows up–God born as a baby. What a day for Anna. That’s incredible! Especially when you understand what redemption means. The prefix of the word, re, means “again”–and the main part of the word is based upon a root meaning “to buy”. In other words, redemption is the act of buying something back, or the act of purchasing it again.
We use the word redemption when we re-purchase goods we left at the pawnshop–we redeem them. Sometimes you sell your item at a pawnshop, but you can also pawn an item, which means you give it to them to get money. Then you can buy it back–you redeem it.
In the first century, the word redemption was commonly used to refer to the act of freeing a slave. A slave could be set free, if someone would pay the price necessary for his full redemption. If that was done, then that slave was cut loose and set free forever, never to be enslaved again.
When the Bible uses redemption in a spiritual sense, it is describing this. Even though we are enslaved to sin and have been sold and resold from one owner to another, in bondage to one sin after another sin–enslaved to lust, anger, or lying. Then Christ spiritually enters the slave market of sin in order to pay the price and buy us back forever.
If you don’t know Christ today, you are a slave to sin–under bondage. Could be your addicted to lust, greed, or deception. It may be hidden, like selfishness and pride. But you are a slave and there is only one deliverer. Jesus Christ paid the price.
The wages of sin is death, so Christ through his death paid for our freedom with His life. That’s what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:18-19, “…knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
The price of our redemption was the blood of Christ. He was born to die–He came to die. And He died so that we might be free forever. He bought us back, even after we rebelled against Him. You know about the little boy and his lost boat. “I made you, I lost you and I bought you back.” That’s exactly what Jesus did for each of us.
He made us–HE IS OUR CREATOR
He lost us–WE REBELLED, SINNED, DID OUR OWN THING
and, He bought us back–HE PAID THE PRICE FOR OUR SIN
When Grandma Anna saw the infant Jesus, she recognized Him as the one who would one day pay the price for our redemption from sin–free us from its penalty, its power and one day its presence. Christmas is not merely the story of the birth of a helpless baby in a stable, the wonder of the shepherds, the gifts of the wise men or the angelic chorus, as beautiful as that may be.
Anna reminds us, the heart of Christmas lies in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” The purpose of Christmas was for God to come into the world and pay the price for sin–death, in order that we might not have to die twice. There is physical death, then there is eternal death in Hell.
Sin will bring about your physical death, but if you die in your sins, you’ll also suffer the second death, where those without Christ live forever in torment in Hell, eternally alive in absolute torture forever. The baby was born in order to later die for us, so that we can have intimacy with God now and enjoy Him forever in Heaven. Anna and others were looking for the redemption.
If you die in Christ, then this life is your only Hell you will ever experience–and later you live forever in heavenly joy with Christ. If you die without Christ, this life is your only Heaven you will ever know–and later you will live forever in Hell, suffering without Christ. This is why Grandma Anna was looking for redemption.
Why did the baby Jesus come? To save us from our sins. You say, “I believe that, Chris.” Good—but have you put your faith in Christ? “I believe,” but is there faith? Faith is the act of exchanging your life for His. Has Jesus made any difference in your life? The only people who have any assurance of salvation are those who want to and do obey Christ.
At Christmas, the world thinks Jesus is a cute baby, but they’ve forgotten Christ their Creator and Redeemer. Unless you give your life to Jesus, you’ll not be saved. You don’t add Jesus to your lifestyle. When you truly come to Christ, He is your lifestyle. He’s not a resident in your life, He’s the president of your life.
If you love the Christmas story, but that story has not changed your life, then there’s a good chance you’re not redeemed and you need to give your life to Jesus. Not merely the baby of Christmas, but the Savior who died on the cross on Good Friday and the one who rose from the dead on Easter morning and the one who will cause you to be born again, transforming you internally into a new person. I pray you listen to Anna as she tells you who Jesus is. Anna also shows us . . .
#2 THE EXPECTATION OF CHRISTMAS: HOPE
Anna was not the only one who expected a Redeemer. Look again at verse 38, “And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” In the midst of a world that almost completely missed the birth of God as a man, there were a few who were looking for the coming of Jesus.
Back in the first century, there was a lot of indifference, ignorance, and misunderstanding about who Jesus was. In fact their responses to Christmas are much like today, maybe like some of your reactions to Jesus. The Pharisees were looking for a political leader who would save them from the tyranny of Rome. They thought He should show Himself with military power and as a result, they missed Jesus.
The Essenes were looking for a monk who would be completely separate from the world of everyday men. They thought Jesus should have agreed with their existing belief system and so they missed Jesus. The Sadducees were so consumed with material possessions and the pleasures of life now, they became indifferent to a redeemer altogether and missed Jesus too.
Yet what’s so encouraging is, Anna tells us there were some who were looking for the Redeemer. There were those in the Old Testament, like Abraham, Jacob, David and Isaiah, who looked forward to the coming of Christ. There were those during the time of Christ, like John the Baptist, Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, and Anna who sought their Redeemer. They were looking and hoping.
And there are millions of believers today who look only to Christ. Are you one of them? Those who know Christ are aware it takes only one sin to keep you out of Heaven forever. You have to be perfect to get to Heaven and not one of us is perfect.
God is perfect, holy, righteous and cannot tolerate any sin at all–sin must be dealt with. So Christ had to die for us–He takes our sin upon Himself and gives us His righteousness, His perfection. Do you know Christ as your Redeemer? It would be so sad if you managed to get through another Christmas without giving your life to Christ, who came to Earth, not to remain in a cradle, but to die for you, to empower your life now through His own indwelling Spirit and eventually bring you home to Heaven.
Now if you are His child, what is the hope of this season for you? Big meals, family, presents and special celebrations? You may make some memories, but none of those will satisfy the emptiness in your heart and the guilt of your soul. All those things and events can be wonderful, but they’ll be empty unless your real hope, your central expectation, is the person of Jesus Christ and His soon return.
Just like they hoped for Him to come the first time, His true children hope Christ will come again like He said. You see, if our focus is now, then we too will be victims of crass materialistic lust. That’s why Christ needs to be your hope this season–not football games, clothes, family or great meals. And Christ can only be your hope as you’re up-to-date and current in your relationship with Him.
He is only your hope if you desire to be with Him more than any other person on the planet. He is your hope only if your affections for Him are greater than any other thing. He is your hope only if He is your greatest love. Anna and the others teach us that–the greatest expectation of Christmas is our hope in Christ, His presence now and His soon return. The third truth Anna makes clear to us is . . .
#3 THE RESULT OF CHRISTMAS: WITNESS
Luke tells us in verse 38, after Anna had seen Jesus, she continued to speak of Him to all. Anna became a witness to all she had seen and heard–she spoke of Him. Do you? It’s obvious Anna would never have been able to speak of Jesus to those who were looking for God’s redemption unless she had previously come to know who those people were.
She ministered in the temple, but was not detached from people. She knew those worshipers well enough to be aware of their deep spiritual longings. Because of her relationships with others, God used her to tell them about Christ. God desires the same of you this Christmas season.
Never forget, as you enjoy all that comes from knowing Jesus, there are others, perhaps as close as the house next door or perhaps in your own home, who do not know Him. For them, these holidays lack all spiritual significance. There is the neighbor caught up in his business, becoming more and more frantic, but inwardly is empty and wondering if there is anything better in life than money.
There is the widow who’s recently lost her husband, or the parents who’ve recently lost a child. There is the housewife with a busy household, but an empty heart. There is the student who has no hope for where the future leads. There’s the guy enslaved to his lust. The gal enslaved to her friend’s opinions, falling into depression if she gets less than ten likes.
Many do not know Christ and have no real comfort. There are the lonely, the disappointed, the frustrated, the disillusioned, the abandoned members of our community–all who’re longing for something better, but not knowing what that something is. For them, Christmas will be merriment without joy, glitter without the inner sparkle of the soul, frenzy without lasting satisfaction.
These people need Christ. But first they need someone to reach out to them, care for them, and tell them how Christ is the answer to their longings. You’ll never win these people for Jesus until you know them well enough to share their spiritual longings with you, just like Anna knew. It doesn’t take much.
Just listen with love–then you can tell them about redemption that’s only found in Christ. A redemption that began with a birth, a redemption that was finished on the cross with His broken body and shed blood, a redemption that is guaranteed by His resurrection. Christ also came to give abundant life now and the hope of eternal life forever.
Christ came so His children might share with others what the God-man came to do. As God, he alone could satisfy God’s wrath over our sin. As man, He alone could die in our place and take our punishment. If we really understand what Christmas is all about, we’ll share with those around us about our redemption and hope in Jesus. Anna did hers with thanks and positive good news.
Praise God, He has revealed Himself to sweet old ladies and to people just like you and me. Anna’s life presses us on many fronts, right? Here is a selfless woman–not concerned for herself, but for God and others. She’s a focused grandma. Not allowing other things to distract her from her God. Anna was soft in heart and faithful in service, night and day.
Anna was ready to respond to the Lord, even as an older grandma. Anna was committed to the most important–the salvation of someone’s soul. She didn’t try to correct their behavior, external stuff, but point them to Christ who alone can transform their heart. Let’s pray.