"And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after marriage, and then as a widow to the age of 84. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." Luke 2:36-38
Can you remember when you first heard The Christmas Story? I was a small boy, ages 2-10 years of age, when my father, Don Miller, pastored the Forney Avenue Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. The name of this church was no help in finding it. It had relocated, at least once, before I was born. When I began attending Forney, it was on Rowan Street. The people moved the church, but kept the original name, Forney Ave. When I was three it relocated again to Dolphin Road. Again the church kept the same name. See what I mean. You really had to be tenacious to make your way to church. The people who found their way to Forney Avenue were part detective and part bird dog. Thank God they did find it. They impacted my life in a great way.
My earliest childhood memories include fond reminiscences of an awesome foursome of widows. They were Miz Bennett, Miz Canada, Miz Frasier, and Miz Burmingham. I sat at their feet for many hours of fascinating flannel graph Bible stories. They also served in two week vacation Bible Schools and week day meetings of Sunbeams. They guided me to a basic knowledge of the characters and stories that formed the bedrock of my faith today. They fanned my competitive flames with Bible Sword Drill, and taught me how to find my way through the Books of the Bible. They unlocked the Scripture for me by teaching me how to use the key of a concordance in the back of my Bible. They made sure church was a safe place to be with their warm hugs, and swift response to any disciplinary problems. They won me over by handling things themselves. They never threatened me with, "I'm going to tell your Dad." They didn't put me on a guilt trip with, "That's no way for a preacher's kid to act." They treated me with respect and retribution, equally measured out, and determined by the behavior I brought to their classroom. They were early practitioners of the Gospel According to Vegas. "What happens in Primaries, stays in Primaries." (FYI: Beginners, Primaries, Juniors, Intermediates were the age group divisions of the children/youth ministries of the 50's). They were tough, tender, and tenacious, and not the least bit intimidated by the task of training up a child in the way he should go. When I think of them, I smile, and I believe I know why God has such a tender place in His heart for widows.
The Old Testament is filled with warnings about the dangers of bringing any affliction into the life of a widow. I'm pretty sure God has cleared me of what I did to those dear ladies. The New Testament gives widows a place of honor in the church, the Body of Christ. When Jesus looked for an example of generosity, he pointed His disciples to "The Widow's Mite." What others saw as small, He viewed as sacrificial. For two thousand years, the widow's gift of minute copper coins has been the industry standard of sacrificial giving. The widow's example teaches us that is is not how much you give, but how much you have left after you give that makes the difference. Never underestimate 'The Widow's Might" in the eyes of God.
The widow, Anna, is introduced in Luke's account of The Christmas Story. She was at the right place at the right time, and found herself at the epicenter of a movement of God. She had been married as a young girl, and had seven years of marriage before her husband died. Death of a spouse left women in a very vulnerable position. There were not a lot of career choices open to them. Often the choice was between indentured servanthood, or starvation. Too often a young widow was forced by her circumstances to resort to prostitution. Anna took the high road, and went to the Temple. If married at 17 years, and widowed at the age of 24, she had spent at least 60 years as a widow. Regardless of the math, at the age of 84 she had a lengthy track record of service, prayer and fasting. These signs of righteousness reflected a heart for God.
My seminary professors emphasized that prophecy is more about forth telling than foretelling. The point of prophecy is to point people to God. If prophecy is more about "forth telling in the present" than "foretelling about the future," then Anna was a genuine prophet. Her immediate response to a work of God was to thank Him for what He had done, and point people in need of redemption to The Redeemer. What a great way to live.
Anna's name is the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Hannah. Literally it means grace, gracious, merciful, or he that gives. Her name graces the message she tells of God's favor. She spontaneously announced to all who would hear, that God had poured out His favor on His people. Isn't it just like God to be trusted to deliver His message with truth in advertising. Anna was a messenger whose message matched what was on her label. Grace to you!
Anna's family was from the tribe of Asher. The tribes of the Northern Kingdom had been taken taken captive by the Assyrians, resettled in Iran, and centuries later remnants returned to Israel. Her family heritage was not in Judea, formerly the Southern Kingdom, and it probably explains why she had to turn to the Temple for support in her hour of need.
Through the priest, Simeon, the Christmas Story shines the light of God's love on the Gentiles. From Anna's testimony, it becomes clear that remnants of the scattered Northern tribes are being included, and welcomed back into God's family. A woman whose ancestors had been punished for their idolatry and disobedience, was blessed by God to tell His story of redemption.
The Christmas Story is filled with the message of redemption. Sin separates people from God. God's character requires sin to be dealt with before people can be restored to fellowship with Him. God's solution to the separation of sin is the sacrifice of His Son. The cost of redeeming people from their sin will be the blood of Jesus. The cross, not the cradle, was the conduit of God's compassion. Encourage people seeking redemption not to miss the message by stopping at the manger. A seasonal spiritual experience is a poor substitute for eternal salvation.
The very hour Anna saw the Savior, she began thanking God for His grace, and began telling people about Him. Anna's response reveals two things. Both are at work in the dynamics of the redemption story. The widow was telling what she had seen to people who were looking for God to show them the way. Speaking of God to people seeking for Him are two sides of the same coin. The Christmas Story will have more value to you when you invest it in others this year. Let this "Widow's Might" encourage you to shed The Light.