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The Three Wise Women of Christmas: Anna
Luke 2:36-38


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Advent Service III—December 17, 2008

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

For our three Advent services this year, we have focused on the “Three Wise WOMEN of Christmas,” Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna.  As I mentioned in the previous two sermons, we hear a lot about the three wise MEN, and they have a prominent place in the traditional nativity scene.  But, really, we know almost nothing about the wise men.  In contrast, the Bible gives us many details about the three wise WOMEN who play such a prominent role in the Christmas story. 

Hebrews says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”  In the witness and faith of Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna, we have a powerful testimony and example of faith for us to imitate.  We conclude this evening with the third wise woman of Christmas, who waited patiently for decades at the Temple for the Messiah’s coming, and finally rejoiced to welcome him in the person of the baby Jesus, the prophetess Anna.

The events of this evening’s Gospel Reading actually took place 40 days after Jesus’ birth.  And so these events are traditionally commemorated by the church 40 days after the celebration of his birth on December 25, with the festival of The Presentation of Our Lord on February 2.

According to Old Testament ceremonial law, giving birth to a boy caused a woman to be ceremonially unclean for a period of 40 days.  During that time she would remain in semi-seclusion.  At the end of this 40 day period, mother and son would come to the Temple, for the presentation of the baby boy to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice for the mother’s ceremonial purification.

And so, 40 days after Jesus’ birth, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus travel about six miles north from Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem, about like going from here up to Jefferson.  A big surprise awaits them there.

For, as they enter the Temple courts, the Holy Family is greeted first by the aged Simeon.  He was a faithful believer in the Lord’s promise to send a Savior, and we are told, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” A life of waiting, watching, wondering, and hoping. How would he recognize the Lord’s Christ, the promised Messiah and Savior of the world?  When would this moment come? When would he die?

Then, the Holy Spirit came upon Simeon that day and led him to the Temple.  His failing eyes are drawn to a baby boy in his young mother’s arms. And with the eyes of faith, Simeon sees in that baby the hope of the whole world, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of God’s chosen people Israel.

“Lord, now let you servant depart in peace according to you word.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of every people: A light to reveal you to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.”

You may recognize those words from our Liturgy.  We call Simeon’s song the “Nunc Dimittis,” after its first two words in Latin, which mean, “now dismiss.”  In the Liturgy, it is sung after receiving Holy Communion, because, like Simeon, we rejoice that we have received the Lord in the flesh, in the Sacrament, and with Simeon we profess that we are now prepared to “depart in peace,” that is, we are prepared to die, “For my eyes have seen your salvation.”

The Gospel says, “The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.”  Then they receive their second big surprise that day: “There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”

Anna is first of all an example for us of faithful service to the Lord, devoting herself to worship and prayer, like Simeon watching and waiting into her old age for the coming of the promised Messiah.  “Coming up to them 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.”

Anna’s life was now complete. Everything she had hoped for, everything for which she had prayed and waited was found in this little baby boy. Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about him to all who were looking for the Messiah’s coming. “There he is! The baby in Simeon’s arms! He is the one we have all been waiting for.  He is the Son of God, the Messiah, our Savior.”

There is a psalm which describes the wisdom of Anna this way: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” We learn from Anna the wisdom of waiting on the Lord and trusting in his word and promises. As another psalm says: “O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him, and he shall give you your heart’s desires.”

That is the wisdom of the prophetess Anna, the third wise woman of Christmas.

Amen.

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