And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36–38)
So much of the Christmas bustle seems to miss the point. Our neighbors focus on traditions or togetherness but fail to seek the baby in the manger. Our co-workers and friends delight in “the season” but overlook the hope of all the earth. Even our own family members are often more concerned about their stocking stuffers than about the desperate need of their undying souls. To truly celebrate Christmas, we need better company.
So much of the Christmas bustle seems to miss the point.
Today’s verses introduce us to the prophetess Anna and her faithful companions; Scripture tells us they were “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” In contrast to many of their fellow Jews, this band of believers maintained their hope in the coming Messiah. Despite hundreds of years of prophetic silence, they committed themselves to worship and prayer in the temple, and they looked eagerly for the One who would “redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Ps. 130:8). While the people around them were chasing the fading things of earth or superficially practicing outward religion, these friends had set their hearts on Christ.
Now, as then, God’s people often seek him in the dark. We live many years after Christ’s first appearing, and we may begin to grow weary of waiting for his return. The difficulties of life in a fallen world weigh heavily on us, and we are sometimes hard-pressed to remain hopeful. What’s more, the world, the flesh, and the Evil One continually hold out glittering objects to catch the eyes of our heart. “Forget about eternity,” they whisper. “This is now.”
Thankfully, we don’t have to persevere alone. God has surrounded us with a hopeful company: his beloved church. By their example and exhortation, the members of our local churches become a cloud of witnesses pointing to Jesus. As we read God’s Word together, we grow in our knowledge of the Redeemer. As we sing songs of praise, our hearts are lifted to the One who is worthy. As we share stories of God’s grace, we look for the Spirit’s work in the unseen places of our own hearts. Week after week, our fellow believers testify that this world is not all there is, and they remind us that the people of God have always lived for another world entirely. In the company of the church, we focus on Christ.
Week after week, our fellow believers testify that this world is not all there is.
Anna and her friends received the reward for their patient endurance. Having devoted themselves to being in the place of God’s presence, they were there “at that very hour” (v. 38) when the Savior of the world appeared. Like those first-century believers, we also should commit ourselves to hoping in Christ and worshiping him together. And as we do, we will be in the very best place to experience his presence. “For where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus promises, “there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20). In the company of the hopeful, Christ makes himself known.
Why do you sometimes struggle to remain hopeful? How does the fellowship of other believers encourage you to hope in Christ? Where do you have opportunities to speak words of hope to those around you?
To us a child of hope is born, to us a son is giv’n,
Him shall the tribes of earth obey, him all the hosts of heaven
— John Morison, “To Us a Child of Hope Is Born”