Rev. George Miller
Dec 27, 2020
Luke 2:21-22 and 36-40
When you read the 4 Gospels, you are experiencing Jesus from 4 vastly different people living through 4 vastly different times.
Mark is writing during a time of national crises. He writes quick, to the point. He doesn’t have the time to focus on things like wise men and angels.
Matthew is writing during the church’s formation, so he’s focused on what Jesus means to those who minister and worship together.
John is like a university professor, using poetic, big words that no one understands, with no interest in mundane things like childbirth.
But Luke? Luke writes with the luxury. Luke is fascinated with meals, miracles, the prayer life of Jesus and how he interacts with women.
Luke takes time telling us about many events surrounding the birth of Jesus.
Whereas Mark is unsure if his community will live to see another day, Luke is writing with the confidence of someone who believes in tomorrow.
Because of this, Luke is able to make references to the matriarchs and patriarchs of our faith, such as today’s story of the baby Jesus being presented in the Temple.
Mary has birthed to her son. Like a faithful Jew, she has him circumcised 8 days later, then six weeks later she presents him in the Temple.
Because Mary is poor, she is only able to afford the 2 pigeons as an offering instead of the customary lamb the rich and well-off can give.
But her lack of wealth does not make Mary or her son any less worthy.
While in the Temple, 2 Elders of Distinction come up to acknowledge that her newborn is the Messiah.
There is Simeon who waited his whole life for such a day.
Then there is Anna, an elderly mother of the Temple who has devoted her whole life to worship and praise.
She not only celebrates God, but she tells all those she meets that redemption has come to the people. At 84 Anna becomes one of the first evangelists.
Who is this Anna?
Interestingly, the “Johns” of today’s theological world don’t spend much time talking about her. After all, she’s just a woman and not a Shakespearean sonnet to be dissected.
But Luke gives us rich information, empowering us to realize just how awesome Anna is.
Anna is the daughter of Phanuel, a member of the tribe of Asher.
Big deal, you may say. I don’t know them. But the author of Luke did, as did the audience of his day.
Phanuel means “The Face Of God.”
In Jewish tradition, Phanuel is also the name of one of the 4 angels said to stand before God.
Phanuel is the angel over repentance; Phanuel is the hope for those who inherit salvation.
So…Anna is the daughter of a man who’s named after the angel of repentance, hope and salvation, who’s name means “Face of God.”
No wonder Anna had the privilege of seeing Jesus and recognizing that who she’s seeing is the One who will bring redemption to the people.
Now, Anna was part of the tribe of Asher. Who’s he?
Asher was the son of Jacob, born to Zilpah, the maidservant of Leah. When Asher was born, Leah said “Happy am I, for daughters will call me happy.”
Asher literally means “Happy.”
Anna is therefore a member of the Tribe of Happy.
Imagine how happy Anna must have been when she saw the baby Jesus with her own eyes.
But there’s more.
Asher was blessed by his father that his bread shall be fat and he shall have delicious treats.
The tribe of Asher was given land on the west coast of Israel, where the nahalah was the most fertile of soil.
Asher’s land had high rain, rich pastures, prosperous orchards.
The Tribe of Asher was known for their olive oil and became suppliers of the oil used in Temple ceremonies.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses says “Most blessed be Asher, may he be the favorite of brothers and may he dip his foot in oil.” (33:24)
Which means that not only is Anna the daughter of The Face of God, and the descendant of Happiness, she belongs to the most blessed tribe responsible for the Temple oil.
Now…. can you see just awesome Anna really is?
That Anna, the descendant of happiness, blessedness, and anointing would set her eyes upon Jesus, praise God and tell all she knew about Jesus!
But there’s more. Because Asher’s mother was a servant, there’s a chance she was not an Israelite; she was a different ethnicity.
Which means Asher and his family were mixed, with biological lineage tied to someone who was once a slave.
Second, the tribe of Asher was one of the 10 northern tribes that fell victim to the Assyrian invasion, splitting them off from the southern tribes in Judah.
Asher was considered one of the “Lost Tribes of Israel.”
So now, we have a better understanding of who Anna is, which means we have a better understanding of how special her encounter with the baby Jesus is.
She is a descendant of Sarah, who was once barren. She is the descendant of Zilpah, who was a slave.
She is descended from “Happiness”, a child of mixed heritage who was called most blessed of all.
She comes from people who lived on the most fertile of nahalah, providing oil for the worship of God.
She is a member of a tribe that was once considered lost, the victims of enemy attack.
She is the daughter of a man named “The Face of God.”
This isn’t just the story of an old widow who sees Jesus and praises his name.
This is the story of a survivor.
This is the story of someone who shouldn’t have been born, of someone who was different from others.
This is the story of someone who’s ancestors experienced both great blessings and great tragedies.
This is the story of a woman born out of the hope of repentance and salvation.
Anna is basically the entire Biblical narrative condensed into one person.
Therefor, Anna is all us of us.
Anna may have a lot of space in today’s story; that’s because Anna IS the story.
Anna is anyone who knows what it is like to have loved and to lost.
Anna is anyone who knows what it is like to be alone, but not feel lonely.
Anna is anyone who is different.
Anna is anyone who has come across hard, unexpected times.
Anna is anyone who dares to bare the promise that there is still hope, there is still happiness.
Anna is anyone who knows what it is like to wait…and wait…and wait some more.
Anna is YOU; Anna is I; Anna is US.
So today, though we are not in this sanctuary together in person, we are together in Spirit.
Standing beside, standing with the amazing Anna, looking upon the newborn King, praising God that Jesus is born and that Jesus is in our life.
Like Anna, we are the children of Blessedness, we are the Children of Happiness, we are the children of fertile ground.
Which means we are all Children of Possibility.
As such, we know that in Jesus, we have seen The Face of God.
For that, we can say “Amen.”