Among my favorite books are C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. I have read them and re-read them several times. These little books were intended for children but they contain volumes of truth that will encourage and entertain readers of all ages. In this series of fantasy stories, Lewis introduces us to four children who find their way into a wondrous land through the back of a magical wardrobe in their uncle’s house. It is called Narnia and it is a kingdom where animals talk and where Kings and Queens govern from tower-filled castles.
When the children first enter this land they discover that it is under the control of the wicked White Witch who rules with an iron fist and a cold heart. As the story unfolds, one of the children, Lucy, meets a faun named Mr. Tumnus. He describes the White Witch to Lucy by saying, “Why it is she that has got all of Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and…NEVER CHRISTMAS; think of that!” Now let’s grant Mr. Tumnus’ request for a moment and consider that phrase, “…always winter….and never Christmas…”
Doesn’t that sound dismal? And, has life ever seemed like that to you? …..like one long winter of cold, snow-covered ground, trees with leaf-less branches, constantly clouded skies….with no Christmas….nothing to look forward to….no light of hope? All people thirst for hope in life. It is what keeps us going. When we are trapped in a tunnel of misery, hope points to the light at the end. When we are over-worked and exhausted, hope give us fresh energy. When we are tempted to quit, hope keeps us going. When we lose our way and confusion blurs the destination, hope dulls the edge of panic. When life forces us to sit back and wait, hope give us the patience to trust.
As Charles Swindoll says, “When life hurts and dreams fade, nothing helps like hope.”
Webster defines hope as, “Desire accompanied by expectation of, or belief in, fulfillment.” And, how vital is that expectation! Without it, prisoners of war languish and die. Students get discouraged and drop out of school. THE REDSKINS fall into a slump and continue to lose. Without this expectation, addicts return to their habits. Marriage partners decide to divorce. Inventors, artists, entertainers, entrepreneurs, and even preachers, lose their creativity. You see, hope isn’t merely a nice option that helps us temporarily clear a hurdle that we encounter on life’s road. Hope is essential to our survival. And perhaps this is part of the wonder of Christmas for the Christmas event reminds us that hopes can come true.
Life is NOT always “winter”. In The Chronicles of Narnia Jesus Christ is represented by a huge lion named ASLAN. And at the beginning of the chronicles it is always winter in Narnia because ASLAN has not been seen in the land for generations. But when ASLAN comes (and He does….about a third of the way through the first book) Christmas comes and spring begins again. Father Christmas appears and he brings gifts to the children, tools they will need in their fight against the White Witch and as he is driving his sleigh away he cries, “Merry Christmas! And long live the TRUE King!”
In this story C. S. Lewis reminds us why Christmas is so special. At this time of year we celebrate the truth that there is hope! The True King has been born! And today I want us to read of a godly woman named Anna who held onto the hope that Jesus would be born for over a century. By examining her life I think we too will understand how hopes can come true at Christmas.
Take your Bibles and turn to Luke chapter 2. We’ll start reading with verse 36. Joseph and Mary have just brought Jesus to the temple eight days after His birth to be dedicated and on the way out they are greeted by two senior adults who recognize Jesus as God’s Messiah. One of these is Simeon and the other is Anna. Follow along as we read this brief account of her involvement in the Christmas story….
36 – There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
37 – and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
38 – Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 – When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.
40 – And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
Well, based on these five verses, if we were to ask Anna this question: “Can hopes come true at Christmas?” What would she say? I think she would answer, “Yes they can! But there are two things we must remember.” And the first is this. Hopes CAN come true at Christmas if…
1. …..we remain YOUNG AT HEART
You know all of us age physically and when the aging process begins to make itself known many of us have a tough time accepting it. For decades we worry about everything BUT getting old. Out of all the things we couldn’t count on in life, there was one thing we could and that was our youth. Remember when you could eat like a horse and not look like one…when all the school teachers were older than you….when professional athletes were about the same age as your older brother? We were young and it seemed we would always be that way. But then certain things in life began to happen that reminded us that we are not immortal. Our children are suddenly taller than we are and they have never heard of James Taylor or Neil Diamond. The girl who takes your order at MacDonalds calls you “SIR”. You notice that you squint a lot when trying to read your exit sign on I-270….by the way I had to get bi-focals this week…can you imagine that? A young man like me?!
As you get older it seems that everything hurts—and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work. Your parents begin acting like children. Your smile lines don’t go away when you stop smiling. We all age. All of us grow old physically—but that does not mean that life comes to an end. We don’t stop living just because our bodies start to decline. Youth is an attitude of the mind not a condition of the body. When he was 78 General Douglas MacArthur said, “Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul.”
In Jesus said, “Whoever tries to keep his life safe will lose it, and the man who is prepared to lose his life will preserve it.” In this text Jesus is saying that there are two ways to view life: protect it or pursue it. You can build a fire in the hearth, and stay inside—warm and dry and safe during your golden years. Or you can hear the voice of adventure….God’s adventure and follow it! And there is no greater excitement and fulfillment! So instead of building a fire in your hearth build a fire in your heart. The wisest people are not the ones with the most years in their lives but the most LIFE in their years! Our goal in life should not be to live long but to LIVE!
And we really begin to live when we commit to follow God’s impulses….no matter how physically old we are. As Max Lucado says, “Just because you’re near the top of the hill doesn’t mean you’ve passed your peak.” Your last chapters can be your best. Your final song can be your greatest. It could be that all of your life has prepared you for a grand exit. God’s oldest followers have always been among His choicest. Moses did his greatest work when he was over 80. Old and mellow Abraham was much wiser than young and brash Abram. Caleb conquered the fortified mountain cities of Judah when he was 85. And John….the apostle John….surely his final years would have been quiet and restful. Surely when he reached 80, John had done all he came to do on this earth. Nope….John had one more chapter to write. Because of his faith in Jesus, he was exiled to the Ilse of Patmos. But what was intended to be an island of isolation turned into an island of inspiration. In his final years John wrote the last book of the Bible. His last years were some of his best because he remained young at heart….that is he remained open to God’s call to adventure.
And by the way what about Anna? Some of the Bible translators have gingerly handled the age of Anna by translating verse 36 as, “She was advanced in her years greatly.” Now referring to Anna in this way is being polite. And we all know, of course, that it is never prudent to refer to an elderly woman as an “old lady” or an “old woman.” Well, you may have noticed that the New International Version sets tactfulness aside, and just blurts out, “She was very old.” And old she was. Biblical scholars have estimated her age at perhaps 104 to105 years old. She had been married for 7 years and then had been a widow for 84 years. An accurate reading of verse 37 would go like this, “and then she was a widow FOR 84 years…” So if she married at the then customary age of 13 or 14 and you add 7 years of marriage and 84 years of widowhood you get a total of 104 or 105 years AT LEAST. But Anna didn’t live the golden years of her life in safety….warming her hands by some fire as she sat in a rocking chair. No! She was a busy lady.
When her husband died she didn’t give into despair but instead began a new life of working and waiting for the long-hoped-for Messiah. For 84 years she hoped and believed the impossible would happen…that God’s promised Redeemer would come. And she didn’t just sit around twiddling her thumbs as she waited. She was a career woman…a prophetess of God. Her job description would read, “spokesperson for the truths of God. Foreteller of the future.” Well God had hired the right person in Anna! She busily stuck with the job until she saw it’s completion. Verse 37 says “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” She loved her Lord and as it says in , “LOVE always HOPES.” Anna was
young at heart….she believed her hope would come true and it did.
And you know what? I think her hope kept her young! It was a factor in her longevity. There’s an old poem that goes like this,
“You are as young as your faith—–as old as your doubt;
as young as your self-confidence—–as old as your fear;
as young as your hope—-as old as your despair.”
In the central place of everyone’s heart there is a “recording chamber.”As long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, and courage-you remain young. But when you allow your heart to be covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then and only then do you grow old…and then, as the old ballad says, you just fade away. Robert Browning said, “Grow old along with me…the BEST is yet to be…the last of life for which the first was made!” Our final years can be the best….the times when our hopes DO come true as long as we follow God’s leading! So I believe Anna would advise us to remain young at heart! And then the other thing Anna would tell us is this…..your hopes can come true….
2. …if we put our hopes in the right PERSON
Anna built her life on the hope of the coming Messiah as described in scripture but she was in the minority. Now, it wasn’t that other people in Israel didn’t expect a Messiah. As this year’s cantata so clearly communicated, a majority of the people of Israel hoped God would send His promised deliverer but they put their hope in the wrong kind of deliverer. The Pharisees for example, believed a great celestial champion would some day come to earth. He would be another king of David’s line who would revive all the glories of the past and free them from Roman bondage and restore the people of Israel as the true masters of the world. On the other hand, The Essenes, the teachers of that day, were looking for someone like Moses to come and teach the law. But there were also a small group of Hebrews who were known as THE QUIET IN THE LAND. They had no dreams of violence and of power and of armies with banners….or of some great messianic law giver. They knew that would be a suffering servant who would “….take our infirmities and sorrows upon Himself…” and that He would be… “….PIERCED for our transgressions, CRUSHED for our iniquities, oppressed and afflicted… …led like a lamb to the slaughter, assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in His death though He had done no violence nor was any deceit in His mouth.” Well, these QUIET ONES devoted their lives to the study of the scriptures, constant prayer, and quiet watchfulness until the true Messiah would come. They believed God’s promise in when He said, “…those who diligently seek Me will find Me.” And as a result they reaped an incredible benefit…..for as the psalmist says, God…. “…teaches the humble His ways…” Well, Simeon was a member of this group as was Anna. They put their hope in the kind of Messiah that scripture foretold…..not a RULER of the people of Israel but a REDEEMER of all mankind. The word used here in verse 38 for “redemption” means “to buy again” and it is found throughout Scripture. It is primarily used to describe the act of freeing a slave.
Now there are various Greek words used in the Bible for to depict redemption. One term used is “agorazo” meaning “to be bought in the marketplace.” And in the days of the early church there were about 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire…so, about two thirds of the entire population understood this word first hand. People were taken to a slave market and auctioned off in the marketplace. Most of them lived their whole lives in slavery. There is, however, another word for redemption,” “exagorazo” and it is used in verse 38 and means “to be bought out of the marketplace….never to be sold there again.” Anna used this word to describe Jesus’ life work. She knew that the people redeemed by the Messiah would be bought out of slavery to sin never to be sold into it again. And—-since Anna had her eyes and ears tuned by scripture and prayer, when the true Messiah showed up, she saw Him and recognized Him. She put her hope in the right kind of Messiah—so she saw what others missed because of their spiritual myopia.
A gem dealer was strolling the aisles at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show when he noticed a blue-violet stone the size and shape of a potato. He carefully looked it over, and then as calmly as possible, asked the vendor, “You want $15 for this?” The seller, realizing the rock wasn’t as pretty as the others in the bin, said, “I’ll take $10 for it.” The dealer paid the $10 and hurriedly took the stone to an appraiser, who appraised the 1,905 carat sapphire at $2.28 million dollars.
This dealer knew what to look for and so he saw priceless value in a hunk of rock that others missed.
Well Anna was like this dealer in the sense that she had the biblical knowledge of what the Messiah would look like and she built her life on that hope. She saw value in that little One snuggled in Mary’s arms-value that the religious leaders of that day missed. This contrast in perceptions is what Peter wrote about in picturing Christ as a rock…a stone used by builders, “Now to you who believe, this stone is precious……But to those who do not believe, it causes men to stumble and is a rock that makes them fall.'” And for Christmas to have it’s full meaning to you and me. In order for us to experience the hope that it brings we must see the baby Jesus as He really is…our promised Redeemer….someone to build our life and hopes upon.
In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey writes,
“When the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci went to China in the 16th century, he brought along samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian story for people who had never heard it. The Chinese readily adopted portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, but when he produced paintings of the crucifixion and tried to explain that the God-child had grown up only to be executed, the audience reacted with revulsion and horror. They much preferred the Virgin and insisted on worshiping her rather than the crucified God.”
And you know many people are just as picky when it comes to worshiping the true Christ of Christmas. They enjoy looking down on the babe in the manger….it is pleasant to do so….but they flinch and turn away when they look up to the Christ of the Cross.
But that baby in the manger should not just be someone we just admire once a year….like we do the babies in the maternity ward. He is our Redeemer…the Son of God and we do much more than admire HIM. We kneel at His feet and give Him our very lives. Yancey writes, “As I thumb through my stack of Christmas cards…..I realize that we observe a mellow, domesticated holiday purged of any hint of scandal. Above all else we purge from it any reminder of how the story began at Bethlehem turned out at calvary.”
When I served on staff at Bethany Baptist Church I remember an interesting discussion at a deacon’s meeting in which one of our deacons voiced his opinion that we should not celebrate communion on Christmas Eve. He felt that Christmas was for celebrating Jesus’ birth….not His death. And this man was missing the central truth of Christmas. That baby in that manger that first Christmas night was born to die….Death was the whole purpose of His life. On the night of His birth the angel proclaimed, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David A SAVIOR Who is Christ the Lord.” Holman Hunt has painted a famous picture of Jesus. It shows our Lord as a young boy at the door of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. The setting sun is shining in at the door, and Jesus, has come to the door to stretch His limbs which had grown cramped over the bench. He stands there in the doorway with His arms outstretched….and behind Him, on the wall, the setting sun throws His shadow, and it is the shadow of a cross.
And also in the background there stands Mary, looking at her little boy, and as she sees that shadow there is the fear of coming tragedy in her eyes. Do you remember the warning Simeon gave to Mary as she held the baby Jesus in her arms that day? He said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your heart too.” Last year about this time Tom led our choir in singing Joseph Martin’s anthem, Just Beyond the Manger. Listen to the words….
“Just beyond the manger, I hear no lullabies,
I see no golden hay, I feel no starlight.
Just beyond the manger I hear the hammer fall,
I see a rugged cross, I feel the chill of night.
Just beyond the manger, I see no swaddling clothes
I hear no angels sing I feel no candles’ glow
Just beyond the manger I see a lonely hill the Savior crying still
I hear the thunder roll….just beyond the manger.
Forgive us Lord and grant us eyes to see in every Christmas, CALVARY.
Implant it in our hearts. Help us recall mid trees of red and gold
That on another tree raised long ago we hung God’s brightest Star.”
Anna and her fellow believers saw their hopes come true because they put their hopes in the right Person…..God’s promised Redeemer. And the fact remains that our world never comes as close to being in contact with its greatest hope as it does at Christmas. So hear this….your hopes can come true this Christmas as well, as long as you follow her example….and build your life on the only hope we have. The hope that Jesus Christ was God’s only Son….that He died on Calvary’s cross for our sin and rose from the dead.. And then I think Anna would tell us one more thing….
3. Hope is something you SHARE…
Verse 38 says that once Anna discovered that Jesus was indeed the Christ, she “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” Luke tells us that she began to share her hope “the very moment” that she discovered the Christ child. So, her first reaction to seeing Jesus was to command her century-old body to turn and run as she went from person to person sharing the unbelievably good news that the long-awaited Messiah had finally been born. Anna knew that hope is something you don’t keep to yourself. It is something you share, especially when this hope is based on the Good News of Jesus’ birth. says that Christians should “always be ready to share the reason for their hope.” You see without Christ mankind lives in fear….fear of death….and…fear of life. We wander through life without purpose or direction.
Jesus said that without Him we are like “sheep without a shepherd.” ( ) We also live in fear of God….Colossians says that without Christ we are “….enemies of God and cut off from Him.” We were designed to know God and to relate to Him intimately but our sin separates us from Him. In fact sums the situation all up by saying that non- Christians live in fear “WITHOUT any real hope in the world.” But because of Christ’s birth we no longer need fear death…We don’t have to walk through life afraid—-bereft of God’s loving guidance. For, as the lyrics to the old Christmas Carol say, “The HOPES and FEARS of all the years are met in THEE tonight!” Do you remember what that angel proclaimed to the shepherds? He said, “Do not fear…I bring GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY for all people.” You know, to the unsaved-to people who do not know Christ personally, hope is nothing more than mental fantasy, like Jiminy Cricket wishing upon a star.
It’s the kind of Disneyland hope that says, “I sure HOPE I win the lottery.” “I hope my boy comes home some day.” “I hope everything works out OK.” This is not real hope….it is wishful thinking. But those of us who have accepted the Christ as our Lord and Savior have been promised a LIVING HOPE through His life, death, and resurrection. This IS GOOD NEWS! And Good news is for sharing! You know when I was a kid the first thing I did on Christmas morning was open my presents and the second thing I did was go to my friends and tell them what I got. I couldn’t wait to share my good fortune with my peers. And age hasn’t changed that much.
I still want to tell people about the wonderful gifts I receive on Christmas. In 1979 Sue and I celebrated our first Christmas as husband and wife by driving from Louisville, Kentucky to Dover, Delaware so that we could spend the holidays with our families. On Christmas-eve I opened a huge present at my in-laws house and inside was the gift that all truly “young at heart” people wanted on Christmas morning in 1979….an ATARI 2600 game system. I was ecstatic! I even received the new “high tech” games….ASTEROIDS and SPACE INVADERS! And when we returned to seminary a week later, the first thing I did was call my seminary friend, BILL RATLIFF to tell him the great news of the unbelievable gift I had received that Christmas and you know what….his in-laws got him an ATARI too!
When you receive a wonderful gift your first impulse is to share the news with someone. Well at Christmas we celebrate because as it says in in sending Jesus God has given us an “….indescribable gift!” My point is that good news is something we share! Especially when it is the good news of Jesus’ birth. So all Christians should, “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere that Jesus Christ is born!”
If you are here this morning and haven’t put your hope in the right Person….the Christ of Bethlehem, then I pray as did the Apostle Paul, “…that the eyes of your heart may be opened so that you may know what is the HOPE of His calling, …what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” Because you know Christmas is so much more than songs and good feelings and beautiful liturgies and nice presents and big dinners.
Christmas is saying “YES” to something beyond all seasonal emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying “YES” to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Won’t you say “YES” to this hope today? Perhaps as a Christian you need to commit to being more young at heart….to following God’s leading into some mission adventure. Or maybe today God is asking you to recommit yourself to sharing the good news of Jesus’ birth. God may be calling you as an individual or a family to join us in this task as a church by moving your membership here.
We sing to give you an opportunity to walk this aisle and share your decision with us publically.