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Sunday Service 8th January





Hymns

CH4 472 Come, thou long expected Jesus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEEd0uWnDGs


CH4 316 Love came down at Christmas https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLws2WvdXdM

CH4 519 Love divine, all loves excelling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPbD2G3i-7Y




Reading Luke 2:22-38


Good News Translation


22 The time came for Joseph and Mary to perform the ceremony of purification, as the Law of Moses commanded. So they took the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 as it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every first-born male is to be dedicated to the Lord.” 24 They also went to offer a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons, as required by the law of the Lord.

25 At that time there was a man named Simeon living in Jerusalem. He was a good, God-fearing man and was waiting for Israel to be saved. The Holy Spirit was with him 26 and had assured him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's promised Messiah. 27 Led by the Spirit, Simeon went into the Temple. When the parents brought the child Jesus into the Temple to do for him what the Law required, 28 Simeon took the child in his arms and gave thanks to God:

29 “Now, Lord, you have kept your promise, and you may let your servant go in peace. 30 With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: 32 A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.”

33 The child's father and mother were amazed at the things Simeon said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against 35 and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.”

36-37 There was a very old prophet, a widow named Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for only seven years and was now eighty-four years old.[a] She never left the Temple; day and night she worshiped God, fasting and praying. 38 That very same hour she arrived and gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free.


Sermon I read recently about an article in the New York Times.


In it, Jeremy Greene of John Hopkins University outlined the psychic impact of the past two tumultuous years on society. He said, “What we are living through now is a new cycle of collective dismay.”


I think we can all relate to this statement.


Collective dismay. As people I think we are all dismayed by our current circumstances. We’ve all had enough of pandemic, of the foolishness of politicians who don’t act in our interests, of our public services not working - being broken - , of interminable strikes where workers appear to be ignored by those who could ameliorate their difficulties, and dreich winter weather.


Collective dismay makes us disgruntled and rather crotchety. How long is this going to go on for? How long, O lord?


This feeling of being “on hold”, of not getting out of the bit, of powerlessness, that nothing is as it should be, reminds me of the biblical theme of consolation – that is comfort in the wake of loss and disappointment.


The story of Anna in the Gospel of Luke has much to say to us about this.


Her story is only three verses long. But it is a very rich story, and we can learn a lot from it.


Anna was a prophetess, we are told, and she was the “daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.” It is surprising to hear such details, since Anna is only mentioned once and very briefly in the Bible. She seems to have lived very quiet life.

She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.


What was the shape of her life, I ask myself. Was it as ordinary as it sounds? Short marriage. No children mentioned. As many as sixty long years as a widow. I wonder whether she took up life in the temple immediately after her spouse died. Did she throw herself into worship of God as a way to cope? How was she regarded over the years? As a bag-lady? As someone holy but too old?

Or maybe Anna had been given special status in the Temple because of her exemplary life. Widows were to be given honour in Jesus’ day, at least if they were living good lives. One pious legend even says that Anna had been a teacher of the young Mary!


What do we know about Anna?


In the very first sentence of her story, we are given a lot of information. We are told that “There was a very old prophet, a widow named Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher.”


Right away, we are told Anna was a prophet.


Now, when you read through the Old and New Testaments, you find that there were far more male prophets than female prophets, but there were a number of female prophets. For example, there is Deborah, the judge and wife of Lapidoth, (Judg 4:4).


And we are told that Philip “had four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9).


Now a prophet is not some ranter or raver who announces doom to all, but is someone who teaches truth about God or reveals God’s word to people.


Such was Anna. She told people about God and his desire for the world.


We are also told that Anna was a widow.


Now we know that widows have a special place in God’s heart. We’ve already seen in the story of Tamar how she was abused and not treated according to law of levirate marriage.


For some reason, Anna did not marry, but spent her days in the Temple where the religious work of the Jews took place. Here she was looked after – possibly because we are told that she worshipped God, day and night, fasting and praying.


We are given a hint of her piety as we are told she is the daughter of Phanuel.


Phanuel means face of God. It is probable that this man was also a righteous man who was able to raise a pious child.


She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.


Imagine! All these years praying and fasting in the Temple!


How does that grab you? No foreign travel; no getting rich; no going for a day out on a whim; no going to the football, aerobics or swimming – whatever your pastime is?


I think many of us would find such a choice very difficult.


But here we can see the passion of Anna. Her heart is in serving.


Nobody compelled or forced her to do it. Out of a willingness to be used by God, she took the honourable cause of becoming a prophet and a servant in the temple.


When she was in the Temple she fasted and prayed. Fasting is a spiritual discipline where we humble ourselves before God. It is a time when we can focus our thoughts on God.


So it can lead to prayer which leads us into a deeper relationship with God.


Both activities are about God and our relationship with him.


Lastly, we are told that when she arrived, she gave thanks and spoke about the child to all who were waiting for God.


Note the first thing she did – she gave thanks to God. And then she told about the child.


Here we see that she is focused on God – a lifetime of prayer has brought her close to God. This enables her to recognise Jesus and understand who and what he is and tell people about him.


Anna didn’t wait to see how Christ’s life turned out before spreading the word. She didn’t need to see how things turned out first. And the sharing itself expanded her own joy.


We don’t know what happened next to Anna – we’re not told. But we know enough to draw some conclusions we can apply to our own lives.


We see clearly her faith, her perseverance and the power of living a godly life.


We see that prayer and fasting bring her close to God, so she could quickly recognise who Jesus was. Her relationship with God enabled her to discern more easily God’s purpose.


So it is with us.


Anna spent her whole life worshipping God. She kept at it. She persevered. And in the end, she was rewarded. Perseverance in faith brings its reward.


She had faith in God. She trusted his promises. And she was rewarded.


Anna spent her whole life waiting for God’s promise of a messiah to come true. She had patience and perseverance.


I’m sure Anna had frustrations and disappointments, but she kept at it.


This can be our consolation. When we are frustrated, let down and see no end in sight, or no better time stick with it.


God’s promises are true. God loves you and walks with you during the good times and the bad.


Have faith!


Prayer

We really would prefer it, Jesus,

if the big problems of our world

could be resolved quickly;

we don’t mind the effort,

the hard work,

or even the sustained hours

over a few weeks or even months;

It’s the years of faithful commitment that we struggle with.

But, from the perspective of eternity,

a lifetime of commitment to your reign

is really not that much to ask;


And so we pray that you would help us to stay faithful

to love ones in our homes and families,

who need to know they can depend on us;

to our brothers and sisters in faith,

who need us to strengthen and welcome them,

even as we need their companionship;

to the people of our neighbourhood and city,

who need us to be good citizens,

and conscientious justice seekers;


to the people of our nation,

who need our constant prayers,

and our commitment to participate

in political, economic and social systems;

to the people of the world,

who need us to embrace them and care for them,

even though it may offer us no benefit,

and have no real impact on our lives;

Teach us the love that stays faithful for the long haul, Jesus,

the persistence that will not give up,

and the grace to trust your faithfulness,

even when we cannot see results.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.


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