Summary: In this message we learn that Anna understood three truths about the coming of Jesus Christ.
We have just listened to the story of the birth of Jesus in our Scripture Lessons. We heard about the angel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, Herod, and others. Most of these characters are familiar to us.
Tonight, however, I want to talk about the least important person in the Christmas story. Who do you think that might be?
That is probably an unfair question since we did not hear about that person in the Lessons we read this evening. And perhaps that is an indication of how little we are told about that person.
The person I am referring to is mentioned in only three verses in Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. And it is not even a man! It is a woman, and her name is Anna. Luke writes this about her in Luke 2:36-38:
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36–38)
Anna was the least important person in the Christmas story.
Luke tells us that Anna was a prophetess. She spoke God’s Word to God’s people. She was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. Asher was not a very important tribe, and Luke probably wanted to show that she knew her genealogy and that she was truly Jewish. Anna was married for only seven years when her husband died. Although some Bible versions indicate that Anna was widowed for eighty-four years, it is more likely that she was eighty-four years old when she met Jesus. Luke’s point is simply that Anna was old. Anna apparently spent all her time at the temple, where she worshiped God with fasting and prayer.
Then, one day, when Jesus was forty days old, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for their purification and his presentation according to the Law of Moses. While they were at the Temple an old man named Simeon saw Jesus. The Holy Spirit told him that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the One the Father would send to deliver his people. And so he blessed Jesus publicly.
Anna came in to the Temple area at that very hour and saw Simeon holding Jesus and blessing God for the arrival of Jesus. And so, naturally, she went over to Simeon, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And from what Luke tells us, Anna undoubtedly understood more about the full significance of the coming of Jesus Christ than any of the other people we are told about in the Christmas story.
So, what is it that Anna the prophetess understood about the coming of Jesus Christ? I would like to suggest that Anna understood three truths about the coming of Jesus Christ.
I. Anna Understood That the Baby Jesus Was to Become the Redeemer That God Had Promised to His People
First, Anna understood that the baby Jesus was to become the Redeemer that God had promised to his people. We know that because Luke says that she began “to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
The word redemption is “from a Latin root meaning ‘to buy back,’ thus meaning the liberation of any possession, object, or person, usually by payment of a ransom. In Greek the root word means ‘to loose’ and so to free. The term is used of freeing from chains, slavery, or prison.” We use the word in reference to buying back an item that has been left at a pawn shop. We also use the word in business to describe the action of a company that is able to buy back bond issues in order to cancel a financial obligation.
However, during the time that the Bible was written the word redemption was used primarily for the act of freeing a slave. A slave could be set free only if someone would pay the price necessary for a full redemption.
When the Bible uses the word redemption in a spiritual sense it means that every single person in the world is a slave to sin, and Jesus came to pay the price necessary for a full redemption.
In many parts of the Bible that idea is reinforced by references to the price paid for our redemption. The apostle Peter writes to his readers, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV). The price of our redemption, then, is the blood of Jesus Christ.