“Stunningly, the Good Shepherd has put the care of His foolish flock into the hands of under-shepherds who tend to be somewhat stupid ourselves. The grand gamble only works if under-shepherds studiously lead in the way that Jesus instructed us to—and therein is the rub, for none of us naturally agrees with His model. Our flesh, culture, ambitions, and propensities all fight Shepherd Leadership like the plague. We may kiss the concept theoretically, but we fundamentally flee from it functionally. …
“It is good to be a sheep; it is good to be an under-shepherd. Just remember you are stupid, chosen by the Wise One, and as long as you serve as a shepherd, you and your flock will be safe.
“The book you are about to read is a refreshing look at leading as a sheep, of serving like our Chief Shepherd. I trust you will benefit from it as much as I did.”
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Our Advent series this year has been called “People Will Talk,” but we have one more person to learn from who says nothing. We have none of her words inside quotation marks, and yet Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit to share her story with us. Her wordless message speaks volumes, if we’re willing to listen.
Anna, like Simeon, was one of the “Quiet in the Land.” Luke describes her as “very old.” The Greek phrase can either mean that she was a widow for 84 years after seven years of marriage, or simply that she was 84 years old. In either case, we don’t see her sitting withdrawn and inactive because of her old age, but we see her taking the initiative. She is the one who comes up to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
Luke also calls her a “prophetess.” Not someone bitter about her widowhood, but someone who truthfully and lovingly spoke God’s Words. Throughout the Bible, we see that a prophet or prophetess is less foretelling the future than they are forth-telling the promises of God. Of course the “-ess” at then end of “prophet” reminds us that Anna is a woman. As a woman she was excluded from certain parts of the temple, but instead of picketing or making a scene Luke says she spends her time worshipping, fasting, praying, and waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promised Messiah.
I imagine that her mere presence must have changed the atmosphere wherever she went!
I’m not sure if Charles Dickens had Anna in mind when he wrote A Christmas Carol, but the way the Ghost of Christmas Present added his blessing to busy people is what I imagine Anna’s role being in the temple—
“But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers’ shops. The sight of these poor revelers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker’s doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humor was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was! God love it, so it was!”
Both Anna in the New Testament and Hannah in the Old Testament mean graceful. Or as I like to remember that word: someone full of grace. When she approaches Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, Luke says she “gave thanks.” This comes from a unique Greek word in the New Testament. The root word is usually translated confession, which means saying the same words as others. But the prefix Luke adds means “in place of.” This means that Anna was speaking thankful words in place of the other words being spoken around her.
Anna spoke counter-culturally. Instead of being a cultural thermometer, she was serving as a thermostat to change the culture around her. This is the same kind of lifestyle that Jesus calls us to live. And it’s a lifestyle that Paul sums up in one succinct verse: “Let your gentleness [or we could say ‘grace-fullness’] be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5).
After Ebenezer Scrooge’s encounter with the three spirits, his life was transformed—
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more.… He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.
“Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
“…And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
As Christians, may both our actions and our reactions be so grace-filled, and may our gentleness be so evident to everyone all year long, and may we live so counter-culturally that people cannot help but see that we are grace-filled by the Spirit of Jesus Christ!