Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Being Like Anna

In Luke 2:22-40, the testimony of Christ's prophesied forthcoming shines through the duo of two elderly characters: Simeon and Anna. Both were prophetically gifted, full of the Holy Spirit (directly recognized with Simeon, indirectly implied with Anna), advanced in years yet unified in their steadfastness to proclaim salvation.

In verse 36, we are introduced to Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. Immediately, we are given a glimpse of her family background; however, in light of brief context, one must question why these past details are important enough to mention. Maybe Luke is offering the reader a clue in his opening presentation. If we bite the bait, take a trip down history lane and scope out an Old Testament equivalent, we will stumble upon Huldah, daughter of the high priest, Hilkiah (2 Kings 22), and likely sister of the prophet Jeremiah. Like Solomon, God filled Huldah with extravagant wisdom, enough to the point Hilkiah, among others, would seek the Lord's word from her. Interestingly, Huldah's name, derived from the Hebrew root, cheled, meaning "to glide swiftly", fittingly capturing her ability to discern the ways of God and voice prophecies concerning God's judgment. Her spiritual ministry foreshadowed that of Anna, as well as the passage of promise concerning the Holy Spirit's anointing upon women (Acts 2:17-18).

Luke also adds accent on Anna's age. Though not directly referenced, basic math combined with textual and narrative criticism, indicates Anna to be around 105 years old when she meets Jesus. Again, why does Luke resort back to her personal history? Perhaps Luke hoped to emphasize her spiritual discipline and her unceasing commitment to fast AND pray day and night. It’s hard to imagine any person who, score upon score upon score, would never compromise on such a calling. This level of devotion is nothing short of remarkable, especially when drawing cultural comparisons.

In this age, people are driven mad over finding love, social media, personal purpose, and accomplishing something "big", though often hindered by the hollow construct of vanity. Essentially, Modern American people have placed value on doing, instead of being, as was the case with first-century circum-Mediterranean culture. Even with 21st century Christians, an understanding of being tends to flow from our definition of doing. Although not all fall into this camp, the general pattern must not be ignored. The point is: Anna's life featured a righteous reverse of this modern trend. Her doing flowed from her being - from the God within her. Thus, her religiousness preserved itself in holiness, free from any artificiality.

Another takeaway from the story of Anna is God's faithfulness to reward the devout. In Anna’s case, her trust in the Lord opened the door for her to catch a visual of the fulfilled promise. The lesson here is faith merged with commitment renews faithfulness and maintains a posture of thanksgiving. In verse 38, the Bible says Anna kept giving the Lord thanks and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. With such a description, one could very well dub Anna as the female version of John the Baptist – the key differences being timeline and mission field. Anna, like Simeon, was instrumental in shaping the spiritual landscape of the B.C. temple, whereas John the Baptist’s arena would be the world outside of it several decades later.


As the Christmas season concludes, be empowered by the importance of being like Anna. She may go unnoticed in the birth story, and her life may only be represented by five verses. Yet, her inclusion into one of the most well-known chapters in Scripture was not by mistake. Anna is arguably the most dynamite widow of the New Testament, maybe of all time. A model for the ages, her life has and will continue to echo the enduring exclaimation that Christ is indeed enough.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Bliss Is This?

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!”’ (Isaiah 52:7, NIV)

WHAT BLISS IS THIS?

Every Christmas, seasonal charisma arouses that magical popery of jollity and goodwill. Amidst the hurrying and scurrying, many people tap into a higher ‘cheer gear’ once December dawns, knowing the most wonderful time of the year is just around the corner. Snowflakes emerge on coke cans, polar bears dance in dreams, sounds of silver bells fill the air, popular television channels kick off countdowns, and old friendships reconnect as the surrounding world decks itself with adornment. As days grow colder, the warmth of binding bonds contribute to what is often associated as good tidings. But what exactly is a good tiding? And how do we adequately answer this if we possess superficial bliss, plastic like our materialistic buys?

It’s easy to lose sight on what drives our ebullience during Christmas. Granted, for me, perspective and prioritizing can be lost in the mix of to-do lists and holiday hassle. But I do know real joy comes from real peace. So whenever I pause to praise the Prince of Peace, I savor a heartfelt delight not even a Starbucks peppermint mocha can stir up. It’s at these points when I’m reminded how worship has a special way of aligning our ways to His. By applying the right heartsets in light of Christmas, we all can discover some rejuvenating truths that not only augment the joy of the season, but add a boost of boldness heading into a new year.

THE WAY FROM THE MANGER

For believers, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, salvation's inception, and the adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5). It is a time to commemorate God’s ultimate gift, who would become the ultimate sacrifice, as well as the divine pathway, which begun in a Bethlehem stable and ended at a cross at Calvary, the tomb, and the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2). From the beginning, God foresaw the incarnation as the bridge to a new covenant relationship with His children. However, the blueprints would require God's son taking on flesh and a marking ministry that would forever change our world. Thus, the purest celebration of Christmas is an honoring tribute to the greatest act of selfless love constructed by a merciful Savior. Good tidings, then, is the proper response as recipients of an everlasting contract of grace, paid for in blood. What is the right response exactly: To share the good news, mirroring God’s love to all men (1 John 4:9-11 NIV).

GOOD GRIEF! THE CHARLIE BROWN CHALLENGE

How well have we kept the manger and cross integrated into our execution of good tidings? As some of us have seen, cultural bents can reduce good tidings to spontaneous acts of short-lived compassion. So how do we righteously respond to such subtle sucking of holy verve?

Let’s think about Charlie Brown for just a minute. For all the verbal abuse Charlie Brown endured in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, he actually had the right approach in his search for the true meaning of Christmas. As the show progresses, Charlie Brown becomes increasingly convinced that commercialism ruins Christmas. Before he figures out what Christmas is all about, he first comes to terms with what it isn’t about: money, Santa Clause, self-centered wanting, etc. Moving from fiction to real life, we find commercialism isn’t the only bug that congests Christmas spirit.

Religion is arguably the greatest nemesis to Christmas, as it tends to cunningly override the open opportunities that allow God's life to manifest. One can discover this at the grocery store and post office. The food cart/package-to-smile ratio should never be in the 10:1 ballpark. Sadly, this seems to be the case year after year. An additional hot spot is the church itself, where year after year thousands of people plop coins in the offering bucket only to balk at directly comforting those less fortunate. Thus, is real giving truly happening? I would submit not, due to the separation of modest deed and good tidings.

If I sound condemning, then accept my forgiveness; I don’t mean to sound judgmental. My true desire is to pray for the joyless and broken - to intercede for the Charlie Brown’s of the world, unknowingly adrift on a sea of holiday motions, who accomplish much goodness by way of action, yet remain numb to the broad significance of those actions. The unsung hero in Charlie Brown saw past the capped and crippled perspectives of his peers: Christmas isn’t about being filled but overflowing good tidings onto one another. Thus, the Charlie Brown Challenge is this: that we may be unified as a people who know why they give. May commercialism and customs not overcome us to the point our ‘love barometer’ stops working. May our donations, offerings and other givings accompany good tidings and stem more from the heart than the wallet. May we, with boldness and without hindrance (Acts 28:31) “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns, because that is why [we were made]” (Luke 4:42-44 NIV). Such words are exquisitely unique, for this is both why and how we should celebrate Christmas.