Songs of Christmas - Epiphany
Sermon date: Jan 6th
Readings: 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11 & Luke 2:36-39
Epiphany: "is a moment of sudden or great revelation that usually changes you in some way."
Share the longest time you had to wait for something or someone, perhaps for an “epiphany” moment of some kind. Who or what was it? Was it worth the wait?
Share a time when a seemingly small bit of Scripture had a meaningful impact on your walk with Christ.
Introduction: Striking Similarities
Two of the most beautiful prayers in the Bible were prayed thousands of years apart, yet by two women of the same name – Hannah and Anna, which translated from Hebrew and Greek, means God’s favour, or God’s grace. We have the words to one, and can only imagine the other. What makes these beautiful are the hearts from which these come, stricken by decades of difficulty, yet strong with hope.
From a first glance at these two stories, share what strikes you as similar about these two women of God and their situations?
Both women share the same name.
Both prayers were prayed in their respective temples (Shiloh, Jerusalem).
Both women endured years of cultural questioning, both for not having children, and for Anna, also not having a husband.
Both were widows, one an actual widow, having lost her husband shortly after marriage, and the other an “emotional” widow (From 1 Samuel 1, Hannah’s husband, having given his other wife a provision of double what he gave Hannah, does nothing to stop his other wife from provoking Hannah for not having children whilst they were on their way to worship no less, and then responds to Hannah’s concerns by saying isn’t he enough for her)
Both remained faithful to God as their prayers to God seemed unanswered for a long time.
Both would see, face to face, a child whose birth could be explained only by a miracle, and both prayers would relate to the same Messiah.
Hannah gave birth to Samuel, who would someday anoint King David. Mary gave birth to Jesus at the city of David.
Hannah’s prayer prophesied not only the coming of David, but the coming of Christ, who Anna now meets.
From years of longing, both women emerge with hope of God’s faithfulness – Hannah’s was written in the Old Testament for all to read, Anna’s was told to all around her to hear.
As a doctor, Luke pays attention to detail, fitting much we can learn about Anna in his brief notes.
Scripture wasn’t written carelessly. There are no throwaway verses and no filler. Every word was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16) and is in context. It’s all divinely intended for our spiritual growth. That means God included even minor characters like Anna for His purposes and our benefit. And while she only appears in three verses in Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:36-38), her presence is not an accident. There is something we’re meant to learn from her example. And by digging into the details Luke provides, we can uncover surprising insight into the life of this faithful servant. (MacArthur, 2015)
Q. 1: From what seemingly small bit of Scripture have you learned something huge?
Luke notes Anna’s father’s name, not her husband’s. Phenuel was named for the place where Jacob saw God face to face (Genesis 32:30) – his daughter was now to meet God face to face herself. (Gill, 1748, 2018)
Q.2: What can a name say about a person?
Luke notes Anna is from the tribe of Asher, part of the northern kingdom of Israel which was exiled to Assyria. How an identifiable descendant of Asher, a tribe originally based in the north (Galilee), ended up centuries later in the south (Jerusalem, a city dozens of miles away) and with her faith intact is thought-provoking. The small remnant of this tribe that kept their faith across geography and time is likely what moulded her faith across adversity.
Q.3: Who has helped you in your study of God’s word?
The Jews denied that any prophet came from Galilee, yet it seems this prophetess did. (John 7:52). Then again, the Jews denied that anything good could come from (a town in) Galilee at all, yet Jesus and his parents did (John 1:46).In Anna we find woman recognised as a prophetess at a time when no man was recognised as a prophet. (Elliott, 1878, 2015).
Q.4: Is there an unexpected circumstance or source in your life that God has intersected or injected with someone or something?
Luke notes Anna as a “prophetess”, and his distinctive use of ancient Greek is not that of an official title. It was not a prophet or prophetess in the sense of a person predicting the future, nor in the sense of God speaking “through” this person. Luke refers to her like this as someone who was so preoccupied with God’s word that she had a reputation for knowing what she’s talking about.
Luke notes Anna never left the temple. Her reputation, part of her godly character, is likely why she was granted a temple apartment (usually just for the priests during their temporary Temple service).
Q. 5: Who looks up to you for your knowledge of God and His word?
Moses prophesies that for the tribe of Asher, Anna’s tribe, “your strength will equal your days” (Deuteronomy 33:25). Anna is around 105 years old in this story. She likely married at age 14, a common age, was widowed at age 21, and then meets the young Mary and Joseph after 84 years of widowhood at age 105. She listens to God, knows His word, and prays as directed. She knows prayer and fasting brings results (Esther 4:15-16) and sets about in expectation of them.
While some may have been drained by the circumstances Anna has endured, her lifestyle evidently invigorates her. Walking unaided about the temple and engaging with others she is fit, mobile, hearing, sighted, articulate, alert and unselfish. Her talk of the child to those interested in the redemption of Jerusalem indicates her deep connection with a like-minded community. Well adjusted, engaged in Israel’s life and a servant to the Lord, she may well have become a model for the righteous church widows Paul describes in 1 Timothy 5:5. (Branch, 2018)
Q. 6: How did Anna redirect her focus from the worries of life to the worship of God?
Q. 7: How did Anna redirect her focus from herself to her community?
Q.8: How did Anna still take care of herself in that process?
Application: Anna's Epiphany
We began with a look at correlations between the two Anna’s.
Q.9: What correlations do we see in this Anna between her life and her ministry?
Q.10: What do you think those points of correlation, her “Epiphany” was?
Anna lost her husband at a very early age, and she had no children. Her world was very much a male-dominated one where women were expected to be silent and unobtrusive. It wasn’t just her past that was harsh, for Anna lived under the cruel reign of Herod the Great. He was keen on how he was seen and what he was meant to be seen doing. He had the temple she walked around beautifully built to appease the Jews who he oversaw and their religious leaders – yet in one corner of the temple towered a fortress full of Roman soldiers at the ready. We know, too, that there was a lot of corruption in the priesthood, which she would see every day. 33 years later, it would be the “pastors” and “bishops” of her day that clamoured for the crucifixion of Christ.
Q.11: What promise of God are you waiting on?
Anna’s “Epiphany”: Like our Anna’s, perhaps you have experienced these understandably human thoughts, feelings, doubts, questions in the face of adversity, or ridicule, or loneliness. Perhaps you have felt these within as you look at circumstance around you:
Is it just me? Why did God let this happen to me?
Why are God’s people acting the way they are?
Why is God silent?
When will God answer my prayers? For how long must I wait?
We know that this can be said about Anna:
Q.12: How could that "epiphany" change you?
Closing Reflection “Old Anna” (Piper1982)
At one hundred four her eyes were dim.
In Israel the days were grim.
The Roman overlords would spit
upon the temple steps and sit
across the court and watch the priest
on duty leave his feast
and put a towel on his staff
to wipe it up. And then they'd laugh
To see the prelate mount the pyre
And burn the towel with holy fire,
And wash his hands and cast a glance,
As if a spear, which said, "The lance
Of God omnipotent, unprized,
Unfeared by you uncircumcised,
Will hew in pieces every dog
That fears him not and feeds on hog!"
Old Anna spent her days in prayer.
She grieved to hear the Levites swear
and plot behind the temple doors
to take revenge or visit whores
or give out prophecies on whim.
In Israel the days were grim.
Her eyes were dim but not yet blind
And daily she would come and find
Her place, as close as women could,
Within the court and there she stood
With open hands to God, or knelt
And poured out everything she felt
Of love to Him and hope within
For One to come and bear the sin
Of priests and soldiers, dog and Jew,
And, she confessed, of Anna, too.
Sometimes the priests would jeer and say,
"You're blind, old woman, stay away."
Old Anna loved to smile and state:
"You don't need eyes to pray and wait."
In fact, she thought, you don't need eyes
to live in love or make you wise
or give you joy or bring you light.
Sometimes old Anna woke at night
and saw, within, the Coming One
As brilliant as the rising sun.
Lord, daily root us in your Truth,
That in our darkness who we meet--is You
A Few More Days with Anna the Prophetess
If this kind, prayerful, elderly woman calls out to you, consider spending a few days contemplating some Bible passages to help understand her life, and her Tribe-of-Asher heritage a little better (Nelson, 2018):
2 Kings 17:6, 18
My prayer is for our “Epiphany” is that through whatever period of longing we have endured or may now find ourselves in, that as we study these passages, shared these thoughts, and perhaps continued looking further at these two people: that we will cling to God as these women did, and therein find that God will meet with us as only He can, and use us to reach others with the love with which He has loved us all.