The Little People of Christmas (Luke 2:36-38)
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The Little People of Christmas
The farmer’s dog had a litter of pups he needed to sell. As he was nailing a sign on the fencepost announcing the sale, he felt a tug on his pants and he looked down–there was a little boy standing there saying, “I’d like to buy one of the little puppies.”
He said, “Son, the pups are pretty expensive. They come from a real good dog.”
The little boy reached down in the pockets of his overalls and he pulled out $.39 and he said, “Will this buy one of them?”
The farmer said, “Yes, that will buy one of them.” So he called for Dolly and she came waddling out of the pen, and following her were four little balls of fur, tumbling down this little ramp. They came up and sniffed around the fence and the little boy was playing with them, and then came a fifth, smaller pup, sort of crippled and awkward, and he stumbled up to the fence and the little boy looked over the other four and said, “I want that fifth one.”
The farmer said, “Son, you don’t want that one, that fifth one. That’s what we call the runt and he won’t be able to play with you like the other pups because he’s the last one that was born, and he won’t be like the other dogs–he won’t be able to run like they run.”
With that the little boy stepped back from the fence and reached down and began rolling up one leg of his overalls. In doing so he revealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attached to specially made shields. Looking back up at the farmer he said, “You see, sir, I don’t run too well myself and he’ll need someone who understands.”
The little boy reminds us of what Jesus did for us. He became a man, suffered in this life, and became our Lord who truly understands. It’s the little people who teach us the greatest truths. And it’s the same with the Christmas story. As we look back on Christmas and all that it means for genuine Christians, I want us to learn from the least important person in the Christmas story.
You see, Christmas is for the little people. That means it’s for you and me. Christmas is not for the great of this world–at least not more than the others. It wasn’t for the great in Christ’s time. Caesar knew nothing of the birth of Jesus Christ. Neither did the Roman Senate, the Greek philosophers or the military generals or Herod the Great. Not even the Jewish high priests or the members of the Sanhedrin knew of it. Christmas was for the people who weren’t important. And it is for such people today.
Who was the least important character in the Christmas story? The least important person is the one who receives only three verses in Luke’s long account of Jesus’ birth. It’s not a man but a woman whose name is Anna. Turn to Luke chapter 2 and look at verse 36 to 38, “And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the Tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 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.”
Here was a woman who was certainly the least of all the little people of the Christmas story. She was widowed, she was old–could be one hundred years old. Yet from what Luke tells us, she undoubtedly understood more about the full significance of the coming of Jesus 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 and church instead of something that is from new birth and from God alone. They think being a Christian is changing into a nice person instead of being transformed by God into a new person. Being a Christian is not only believing that Christ is God who died on the cross for your sins, rose from the dead, but also being born again–changed in such a way that you are different internally with different motives, desires, hopes, dreams, desires. Now you don’t just choose to follow Christ you want to follow Christ.
This is what Christmas is supposed to point to—so what can this little person, this Anna, teach us? Three simple, brief, but profound truths–what are they?
#1 The purpose of Christmas—redemption
Anna knew the purpose of the coming of Christ. The prophetess understood that the infant Jesus was the Redeemer God had promised Israel. 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.” 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 repurchase goods we left at a pawn shop–we redeem them. Sometimes you sell your item at a pawn shop. But you can also pawn an item, which means you give it to them to get money—then you 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 tells us that even though we are slaves to sin and have been sold and resold from one owner to another, in bondage to one sin after another, then Jesus Christ entered the slave marketplace in order to pay the price and buy us back forever. Jesus Christ paid the price–and since the wages of sin is death, Jesus paid for our freedom with His life.
That’s what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:18 to 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 died that we might forever be free. He bought us back after we rebelled from Him.
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 Anna saw the infant Jesus, she recognized Him as the one who would one day pay the price for our redemption from sin and its power.
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 that the heart of Christmas lies in the fact that, “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” (John 3:16).
The purpose of Christmas was for God to come into the world as a man so that we might not die twice, physically and spiritually–die now, then die forever in hell. Sin will bring about your physical death, but if you die in your sins you will suffer the second death where we live forever in torment in hell, eternally alive in absolute torment 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. If you die in Christ then this life is your only hell, and you live forever in heavenly joy with Christ. If you die without Christ, this life is the only heaven you will ever know and you will live forever in hell without Christ.
Why did the baby Jesus come? To save us all from our sins. You say, “I believe that Chris.” Good–but have you put your faith in Christ? Faith is the act of exchanging your life for His. Has Jesus made any difference in your life? At Christmas the world thinks Jesus is a cute baby, but they’ve forgotten He’s 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 come to Christ He is 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 only 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 come into your life and transform you–born again, new life. I pray that you’ll listen to little Anna as she teaches us who this Jesus is.
#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 some 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 were much like they are 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 in the present 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. And there are millions of believers today who look only to Christ. Are you one of them?
Those who are know that 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. 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 go through another Christmas without coming to believe in Him who came to earth, not to remain in a cradle, but to die for you, to enrich your life now through His own indwelling Spirit, and eventually to bring you with great joy into heaven.
But if you are His child, what is the true hope of this season for you? Is it big meals, family, presents and special celebrations? Those are all wonderful, but they’ll be empty unless your real hope, your central expectation is the person of Jesus Christ and His coming again. Just like they hoped for Him to come the first time, His true children are hoping for Him to come again.
You see if our focus is now, then we too will be victims of crass materialistic lust. That’s why Jesus needs to be our hope this season, not football games, clothes, gatherings and some great meals. And He is only your hope if you are current, up-to-date, fresh 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 only your hope if your affections for Him are greater than any other thing or person. He is only your hope if He is your greatest love.
Anna the prophetess teaches us that the greatest expectation of Christmas is our hope in Christ, His presence and His soon coming.
#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 that 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 them well enough to be aware of their deep spiritual longings. Because of her relationships with others God used her to tell them about Christ Jesus.
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 his business. There is the widow who’s recently lost her husband, or the parents who’ve recently lost a child. They do not know Jesus and they have no real comfort. There are the lonely, the disappointed, the frustrated, the disillusioned, the abandoned members of our city, all who are 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 Jesus Christ. But first they need someone to reach out to them, care for them and tell them how Jesus is the answer to their longings. You’ll never win these people for Jesus until you know them well enough for them 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 that began with a birth, was finished on the cross with His broken body and shed blood, and is guaranteed by His resurrection.
If we really understand what Christmas is all about, we’ll share with those around us about our redemption and hope in Jesus. Praise God, He has revealed Himself to the little people just like you and me, and will even use little people to share with others.
This little person and short verse asks some vital questions to ask yourself, looking back at this year and looking ahead at 2011.
#1 Anna had great friends
She trusted Simeon, and she knew of others to speak with who were also looking for the coming of the Messiah–she hung with a spiritually strong crowd. Did you this last year, and will you in 2011 cultivate strong spiritual relationships–people who encourage you, push you, confront you, love you, pray for you, share God’s Word with you? And will you become that kind of friend to others?
#2 Anna embraced a heart of redemption
That only comes with a huge awareness of your own sinfulness and need for redemption every day. Did you this last year become more focused on the Gospel, and will you this year begin to filter every action and every conversation more around the Gospel–that you are a sinner in desperate need of Christ and the filling of the Spirit every single day? If you are not in the Spirit, you are in the flesh. Ask the Lord this year to give you a heart of redemption.
#3 Anna had a passionate heart
She was sold out to God’s purposes. She lived in the temple, she had a singular focus. This last year did you grow more committed to Christ or less? Anna was not cold or lukewarm, she was hot–were you? And this year, will you grow more singular in your commitment? Do your job, but do it for Christ–parent, hobby . . . commit to those things Christ commands. Give up whatever is keeping you from growing more intimate.
#4 Anna was faithful
She was there, week in and week out, every day, sold-out. She was ready when the Messiah came. She was not a no-show. Were you more faithful in 2010, or less? What will you commit to in 2011 that will demonstrate growth in faithfulness? Faithful in little leads to faithful in much. Will you become someone who is super faithful?
#5 Anna longed for the coming of the Messiah
She was watching, waiting, looking, checking–she sees Simeon and it must have been something about the dialog, the expression on his face that gave it away. Redemption had come–the Savior was born.
We have a Savior who is coming back–He is coming physically, and He is coming to judge and rule forever. Did your anticipation of the coming of Christ grow this last year? Will it grow this coming year? Every day say, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
#6 Anna knew she needed a Savior
This nice old lady that everyone liked saw herself as a sinner condemned before a holy God, and desperate for God to make a way to forgive her, cleanse her, make her right and change her. She knew redemption is payment of the price, and that is what Jesus did–the wages of sin is death, and Jesus died for the sins of His children, rose from the dead and lives right now to give new life to those who finally see that Christ is the only way, that Christ is their Creator, Lord, Friend and Redeemer. Won’t you turn to Him today?