Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Anna-A Fixture in God’s House, Jesus-A Fixture in our Hearts” based on Luke 2:36-38 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, December 17, 2017
Even in retirement, Faye Polhemus still gets up at 4 a.m. every day. She can’t help it. Old habits die hard. You see, Faye retired last year at age of 82. But for the previous 66 years, she’d worked as the breakfast shift waitress and also part time cook at Miller’s Family Restaurant in Adrian, Michigan. Think about that for a second. Prior to her retirement, Ms. Polhemus of had been giving customers coffee refills since Harry Truman was president. She had served eggs and pancakes for hungry diners while they read the day’s headlines about the Korean War…and then the Vietnam War and the Cold War and the Gulf War, the War of Terrorism, the War in Iraq. For 66 years, she was what you might call a fixture. When you went into Miller’s Family Restaurant for breakfast, you knew Faye Polhemus was going to be there.
You know anyone like that in your life? The teacher who has been at a school so long that she has taught 2 or maybe even 3 generations of the same family! Or the mail carrier who has walked the same route for decades. Some of you are fixtures, too, by the way. You’re sitting right now, in the exact same church pew that you’ve sat every (Thursday) since I’ve been here and probably long, long before.
I mention it because our character for this week’s Advent Characters and Songs was a bit of fixture herself. If you went into the temple courts of Jerusalem, around the time of Jesus’ birth, you knew that Anna was going to be there. Our text says that Anna “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”
You might wonder how that practically worked…I mean, did she actually sleep at the temple? There were living quarters on the temple grounds that were set aside for the priests who would come into to serve their two week stints on duty in the temple proper. Maybe Anna was such a fixture there that the powers that be gave her a place to call her own.
The real question is not so much about where she was there, but about why she was there. We know she was very old, that she was widowed as a young woman and never remarried, if she had any children or grandchildren, they are not spoken of. Was she there in the temple, possibly, because she had no other place to be? That she was all alone in life. That God’s house was her happy place, the place she felt at home, the place she belonged.
Pray with me, dear friends, that he that the Lord would work the same in us. That he would give us the dedication and devotion to be fixtures in his house, regardless of our circumstances. Whether we are all alone or surrounded by multitudes of branches in our family tree, whether we have no other place to be or feel like we have a thousand different things on our to do list, how blessed it is for a person to call God’s house our happy place, a place we feel at home, a place where we belong. Understand that it’s not really about the church building itself—that can change over the years. It’s not primarily about the people who are at church—some times they can mess up, let us down and hurt us real bad. This is the place where we belong because of the God to whom we belong. Here we sing his praises, here we gather around his Word and Sacrament, here we are asked to ponder the depths of our sin and the heights of His mercy. Here we see Jesus.
Actually, that’s what Anna saw, too. She saw Jesus, live and in the flesh. 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. Mary and Joseph were there at the temple with their young baby to offer a sacrifice and consecrate their little one to the Lord (v. 22-23), as faithful Jewish couples regularly did. That was not extraordinary. But Anna knew that this child was. She gave thanks and told everybody was
I know, it doesn’t sound particularly exciting compared to angels appearing announcing that “a virgin will be with child” and a woman “way past child bearing years” would also soon find herself in the delivery room. Anna’s story seems rather pedestrian in comparison to the stories of Jesus’ birth and John the Baptist’s birth. Anna was just a lady who saw a baby and was happy about that baby.
On the other hand, maybe that makes Anna a character we can relate to more than the other major players in the story of Advent and Christmas. She had no angels appear to her, no miracle announced to her. She simply saw Jesus and rejoiced. Just like us.
Most of our days are pretty simple, pedestrian, unspectacular, consumed by the routine of the day to day. They seamlessly flow one into another, to the point where we might find ourselves stopping and asking on occasion, “It’s Wednesday already? Where did this week go?” “It’s December 14th already, where did this month go?” Most days aren’t Christmas. Most days are go to work, come home, go to bed. Do it all again tomorrow.
But in the midst of the pedestrian, the unspectacular, the routine—we see Jesus, like Anna did and we have reason to rejoice. Had he not appeared, the devil would hold all the cards, our sins would be our own to carry all alone, death would be our destiny and the end to our pathetic story of misery. Because sin is a fixture in our world, and sadly a fixture in our hearts.
But in the midst of our shame, our bleak hopelessness all of sudden—we see Jesus. He says, “Place your speeding and your stealing, your lusting and your lying, your discontent and your disrespect, all of them, all of them, place them on my back. We’ll switch. I’ll be the sinner, you’ll be the sinless child of God. I’ll be punished. You’ll go to heaven.” Who does that? Who says stuff like that? Jesus, that’s who.
So he becomes a fixture, too—in our hearts. And we pray…Heavenly Father, when you look at my heart, see Jesus and his perfection there, too. Never, ever look upon me, O Lord, without seeing him, too. Even more steadfast than Anna in the temple or Faye Pohlemus at the restaurant, become our fixture in our hearts, Lord Jesus, and never ever leave.
Do you think his presence there, might change the way your life looks when you leave here? Seeing Jesus moved Anna to give thanks to God and speak with all around her concerning the Christ-child. What will seeing Jesus inspire in you and me today? Will it be a closer rein on our tongues or a more avid commitment to serve and help spouse, children, parents, or neighbor? Will seeing Jesus move you to give thanks by doubling down on your commitment to stomp a particular sin out of your life or doubling up on the prayers you offer for those in need? I can only suggest, of course. It’s your heart. And God’s the one who makes it happen. All I know, is that when Jesus is a fixture there, there’s less room for sin to be a fixture there. And there’s more room for rejoicing. Rejoicing in sin’s demolished, rejoicing in conscience clear, rejoicing in strength for the trials and comfort for the troubled. Rejoicing in the promise of and the prospect of life eternal. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Amen.