Pastor Ehrhard is on vacation this week. Please enjoy this throwback sermon from 2012.
First Sunday after Christmas
30 December, 2012
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christmas ended four days ago for most people. The wrapping paper has been sent out to the recycle bin, defective and oversized gifts have been returned and exchanged, crumbs are all that are left of the season’s cookies. But in the Church we mark the birth of the Christ Child as only the beginning of the story of the New Testament. Christ’s earthly life is a journey from manger to cross—and what happens in between is not insignificant.
Following the birth of a child, Jewish mothers were required to follow certain societal and ritual laws prescribed in the Law of Moses. On the eighth day following birth, males would be circumcised as a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham. During that first week, the child’s mother would be restricted from all social interaction, and would be considered unclean, as was the case whenever there was a discharge of fluids from the body. For an additional thirty-three days after the initial period, the new mother was restricted from participation in the sacred rituals of the temple, presumably to ensure that there were no lingering effects from childbirth that would cause additional uncleanness.
On the fortieth day, the mother was required to go to the temple to offer a sacrifice—a lamb and a bird, or, if she was too poor, two birds. Following this sacrifice, the woman would be fully reincorporated into the Jewish ritual and sacramental life.
This is what brought Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus to the temple in today’s Gospel. Mary was offering her sacrifice to complete her purification. While they were there, the holy family was spotted by two elderly visitors to the temple, who came to some startling conclusions about this little baby. Simeon was the first (his song is the one we sing following communion) and Anna. Today we will turn our attention to Anna, to discover what her brief cameo in the story of Jesus means for us.
Anna was a pious woman who is a model for all widows of the Church. She had been married in her youth, but seven years later, she was widowed. Now she was “advanced in many days” at eighty-four years old. The text doesn’t mention her children, but given her reliance upon the temple, it’s likely that if she had any, they didn’t do too well at taking care of her.
I don’t know of a Church that runs without widows. The book of Acts mentions the widows, how the first pastors after the Holy Apostles were appointed to help take care of them. Chances are good that the widows took care of the pastors, too.
Anna is the model of worship for widows, though truth be told, she probably puts them all to shame. She never departed from the temple, worshipping by fasting and prayer night and day (v 37). Most widows fall short of the piety of Anna—and if the widows fall short, then the rest of us cannot hope to reach her level of good works.
Ann is named a prophetess, but it’s not because of her dedication to the temple. It’s not about what she’s done before she meets the Christ Child, but after.
She is called a prophetess because she was an eyewitness of the Christ. Prophecy is simple the transmission of God’s Word. Sometimes that Word is about future events, sometimes about the past, but mostly prophecy is about the present. God’s Word for you, right now. Prophets proclaimed direct revelation from God; they didn’t proclaim the written Word.
Anna is given a special gift, not because of her piety, but by grace. In her advanced days, she was blessed with the vision of God in the flesh. While the Christ Child filled her vision, Simeon’s prophecy fills her ears. The Holy Spirit then works in her heart to reveal to her the purpose of the Word made flesh.
After Anna sees the Christ, St. Luke writes that she went around to all who were waiting the redemption of Jerusalem (v 38). It is a good bet that Anna was also one of those who was awaiting Jerusalem’s redemption, and that her prayers often returned to that petition. But as is so often the case, the Lord answers prayers in ways we don’t expect Him to.
The redemption these faithful were hoping for was the redemption of Jerusalem from foreign rule under the Romans. But God had bigger plans. The foreign rule He was set to take on was the rule of sin, death, and satan. Anna was under this cruel reign also. Despite her impeccable piety, she sinned. Death had made her what she was (though not her own death, but her husband’s). Satan delighted in her hardships, her suffering, her struggles.
But the redemption that’s revealed to her is a spiritual redemption. God did not become man to rescue a city between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. He became man to redeem all of humanity, beginning with Jerusalem and extending to the ends of the earth.
Anna and the others may have been expecting God to deliver Jerusalem with a holy army, resplendent in shining armor and armed to the teeth. He didn’t send an army; He sent a baby. For some this would be a disappointment, but for Anna it was joy beyond all gladness.
The theology of the cross was revealed to Anna in the temple. Her fellow eyewitness of the Christ Child spoke of it explicitly when he told May that a sword would pierce her soul, also. That is, the Baby was born to suffer. To die. He is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel. That’s the pattern of this baby. Falling and rising; death and resurrection.
This is the message she brought to her fellows yearning for redemption. The way of redemption is the Child’s suffering and bloodshed. It is a spiritual Israel, a New Jerusalem that Jesus redeems—His holy and precious people who have been purified by His blood.
Anna is a prophetess, and her revelation is also for you. Christ is your redemption. He is the sacrifice whose blood purifies you from all sin. In the font, you fall into His grave, and He raises you to new life.
Through Anna, God Reveals to You That The Christ Is Your Redemption
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard