The Sunday after Christmas December 28, 1997
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
In the name of the Christ Child, the perfect gift for an imperfect world, dear Christian friends, dear fellow redeemed.
Packages come in different shapes and sizes. They also come with different sets of instructions. Some packages tell us to “open immediately; dated material inside.” Other packages tell us to “handle with care, contents are fragile.” Some packages require that the box be stored with a certain side up. Or the package tells us that “some assembly is required.” And some packages come with no instructions at all.
Is that what we have in the gift of a Savior? Are we left wondering what to do with the Baby Jesus? Or do we find that God has given us very careful instructions? Today we examine this question in search of an answer. How shall we handle the gift of a Savior? God’s instructions are clear in the example of Anna. Through her words and actions, we get a clear picture of what to do.
Sounds pretty simple, right?. Unfortunately, people have muddied the waters with unbelief and false teaching. You can tell by the constant debate going on. Scholars, churches and average people are in disagreement over the question, “Who is Jesus?” Why was He born? What purpose did He come to fulfill? Was He just another man? Was He one of many Jewish prophets in succession? Was He sent by God to be the example of how to live your life on earth and earn your way into heaven? So far, the theories and the questions have come up way short. We need to see Jesus the way that Anna and Simeon saw Him. That is, we see Him as our only Redeemer.
After giving some background on the woman’s life, Luke tells us that Anna entered the same part of the Temple, where Simeon had met with Mary and Joseph and viewed the infant Savior. Remember what Simeon said at the time? He not only identified the Baby Jesus as the Messiah. He said to Mary: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against; yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35) Simeon predicted that this Baby would grow up to be a Man opposed by His own people and that His death would bring great sorrow to Mary, his mother. Simeon was focusing her attention and our attention on the fact that this Baby was born to die.
That is so unusual, because nobody else in this world was born to die. You were not born to die, and neither was I. That was never God’s intent with us. We were born to live through Him. Jesus Christ was the only person who was born to die. Of course, His death would have great meaning and fulfill a great purpose. Anna saw it as the “redemption of Jerusalem.” Jesus would be the ransom price that God required because of sin. I know we’ve talked about this many times before. I hope that the repetition does not diminish in your mind the awesome nature of our redemption. When Jesus came to redeem you, it was a very big deal. It might help if we took the word “redemption” and reviewed its meaning on the basis of ancient culture.
In modern day America we have little opportunity to redeem things. It can happen, for example, at the pawn shop. Rarely, very rarely, do we have opportunity to redeem people. How do you buy back somebody else’s life? The closest example might be the posting of bail. You can bail your friend out of jail. But if he is convicted, you could not redeem the person’s life from prison. In ancient times, however, the redemption of people was an option, if you had enough money. Let’s say a man fell into great debt and he could not pay. The matter was often settled by slavery. The man would become the slave of the person to whom he owed the debt. That slavery was not necessarily a permanent condition. If his family or friends could gather the funds, they could redeem his life—that is, they could paid off his debt with interest and buy back his freedom. The redemption of slaves was familiar to the ancient people of the Mediterranean world, but in terms of making it happen, redemption was very difficult to achieve.
Well, in our day, the spiritual connection between debt, slavery, and redemption is just as real. Whenever you sin, whenever you break God’s commandments—a daily occurrence for all of us—you build up this huge, unpayable debt with God. You owe! You owe God the penalty of death and hell. Every sin has to be paid for; the justice of God requires it. Now what if you had to pay? You know what would happen: absolute misery, pain and suffering for all of eternity. God would not let that happen to us. He found a way to redeem us, to pay off our debt with Himself and purchase our freedom. You can’t redeem yourself. But Jesus can and Jesus did. As we heard in our Scripture reading from Galatians, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” In Galatians 3 Paul spells out what the price of our redemption is: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.”
Have you ever viewed the church’s outdoor nativity scene at night? Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the manger are all connected as one piece of wood, mounted upright in the ground. A light shines to cast a shadow on the front wall of the church. The shadow is cast in such a way that the large cross is coming up out of the shadow of the manger. The image is intentional. We want to portray the exact purpose of our Savior’s birth. He was born to die. He came to redeem. He came to be our ransom price. Looking back on this event, we can trace all the steps that God took to accomplish the goal of universal redemption. He sent His Son to guarantee a perfect Sacrifice. He used a virgin birth to bring this Sacrifice into the world. He used a cross—that hideous instrument of death and execution—to pay off the debt for all people. He carried out all these steps as a great act of love for each one of us.
When God sent the Savior, He gave clear instructions on what we should do. First of all, we view the Savior for what He is. He is our only Redeemer, which means a lot. Jesus is the sure reason that all your sins are forgiven. Let’s think this through and be absolutely sure. Can you pinpoint any sins in your life, any sins at all that He did not atone for on the cross? I can’t either. All the debt is paid. So all the debt is canceled. God says you’re debt-free. Your record is clean because of Christ. Therefore we can use Jesus for “medicinal purposes.” We use him to soothe and silence a guilty conscience. We look to Christ as the reassuring proof that God loves us all the time. We take hold of Jesus as our confidence of life after death. We focus on the Redeemer to grow in our faith and our love for God and our love for each other. Anna saw Jesus as the only hope of redemption. God help us to have the same vision of the Child born for us, the Man living for us, the Sacrifice dying for us, and the Lord risen for us.
This vision of faith will lead to another step. How shall we handle the gift of a Savior? The same way that you handle any precious gift. You take it, and you thank the giver. In this case we also receive Jesus with thanksgiving to God.
The child in the manger was nothing less than a present from heaven. In this case though, the gift had to be handled with care. We can’t afford to toss Jesus aside, ignore what He did, or let Him go for some other treasure or pleasure in this world. That would spell disaster. We take Jesus the only way that God meant for us to receive Him. We take the gift by faith.
Now you realize what faith is. It’s more than the acknowledgment of Bible history. It’s more than your agreement that Jesus Christ was a real person. Of course, you need to learn the Gospel and agree that it’s true. You need to accept as reality the fact that He died for your sin. But faith is more than acceptance. Faith is trust. You trust the Savior to do for you what you can’t accomplish for yourself. You give up the idea of paying your own sin debt with God, and you let Jesus do it for you. Your trust in Christ will go one step further. Your trust will also be the confidence that the sacrifice really worked. It will be the confidence that His life and death were good enough—without any help from you or me—good enough to make us right with God.
This trust in Christ, however, is not something we produce in ourselves. God must give us the faith to believe. God must use the power of His Word to build up our trust in the Savior. Once the faith is created in the heart, we take what God offers and we offer back our thanks to the giver. Wherever God works the miracle of faith, there you will find the response of gratitude.
Anna is the example for us to copy. She gave thanks to God for the gift of Jesus, the Messiah. The shepherds were also moved to thank and praise God, as they returned to their flocks in the field. We can echo these words of praise today. You can thank God in this church service. You can thank God in your prayers. By your words, actions, and offerings, you can show how much you appreciate what God has done in the gift of His Son.
If someone saved your life, chances are, you would say thanks to that person over and over, in various ways, without any prompting, without any reminders. Chances are, you would also share the story with other people. The news of your rescue would be too good to keep to yourself. Well, our thanks to God is not the only way to handle the gift of a Savior. We also have the Lord’s instruction and the Bible’s example to share Him with those who need the Savior too.
We can learn a few things from the approach of Anna. Notice the people that she spoke to: she “spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” These were individuals that she probably knew, men and women who came to the Temple and expressed their views of the coming Messiah. These were people who understood what they needed most. It was only natural for Anna to go to them and share the news of the Savior’s birth. She had an opportunity to witness and she took advantage of it.
Even as Anna went to her fellow countrymen in the place where she lived, we can do the same in our communities and our neighborhoods. We know that Jesus came for all people. And we know that all people need the Savior, whether they realize it or not. The question is not whether we should speak the Gospel to them. The question is how and when and where. Where do we start?
We can do what Anna did. Start with the people that you know, people with whom you have a rapport and a friendship. If you approach them to discuss matters of the soul, they will see that you’re coming as a friend. If you go and talk to them now at this time of year, you can tell them that you’re coming with a late Christmas present. Their attention is still focused on the Christmas holiday. You can take advantage of the situation. You can ask them what their opinion of Christmas is, what they think this holiday means. Based on their response, you can then show them what God did at the first Christmas. Tell them what you know. Tell them what you believe. That can be your greatest gift to them, because they need a Savior too.
In thousands of stores across the country, people wait in line to return or exchange gifts that they cannot use. In some cases, they may have received an item of clothing a little too small, or a little too large. When you give away the Savior, you never have to worry if the present will fit. Jesus offers salvation that is meant to fit and cover all. People might return the Savior because they don’t want Him. But that’s another story. That is not to be our concern. God has told us exactly how to handle His gift. First of all, we use the gift for ourselves, with the firm conviction that Christ is our only Redeemer. We take the gift with thanks to the Lord who gave it. And we share the gift with others, so that Christ can touch and change their lives too. Let’s make this Christmas extend into the new year by doing what Anna and the shepherds did. We give the Savior away, and we keep Him for ourselves. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.