2nd Sunday of Christmas / January 4, 2009 / Resurrection Lutheran Church
Text: Matthew 2: 1 – 12 / Message by: Rev. Carol Kniseley / Three Wise Women
They have been called the Three Wise Women of Christmas…and for very good reason. And it is their stories that collectively, on this 2nd Sunday of Christmas, that we will turn our attention to today. The first of which, was not the youngest…nor the oldest…but whose name means “God as My Oath”.
A descendant of Aaron (the brother of Moses), Elizabeth was a woman the Bible calls “upright in the sight of God.” She was known for obeying all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations…but more importantly, she was the first to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, even before he was born. But that would be getting ahead of our story.
Six months before, her husband Zechariah had been chosen by lot to burn incense in the Most Holy Place in the Temple, a once-in-a-lifetime privilege. But during his time in the Temple, he had been frightened nearly to death by an angel that appeared suddenly next to the altar of incense. “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,” the angel told him, “and you are to give him the name John.”
Instead of believing the angel, Zechariah voiced his skepticism and therefore suffered the consequences. And just like that…his voice was snatched away and would not be given back until the words of the angel had come true. Communicating to Elizabeth what had happened took some doing, but in time…the truth began to show…and she knew that her prayers for a child had been answered, even though she was beyond child-bearing age.
By the time her relative, Mary, came to visit…Elizabeth was now six months pregnant. Mary had traveled some 60 miles south of Nazareth to the hill country of Judea where Elizabeth lived, not an easy journey for a young woman in her first months of pregnancy. If there was ever a time that Mary could use a friend and confidant, it was most certainly now. Now…before returning home to her family and finance, Joseph…and trying to answer the very question that she herself had posed to the angel: “how can this be…since I am a virgin?”
It wasn’t until the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy in the presence of Mary, that she suddenly knew the truth. Call it a gift of insight…call it a gift from the Holy Spirit…either way, it all made such wonderful sense that neither Elizabeth nor Mary could stop smiling at what God had made possible. She embraced Mary with open arms…and an open heart…assuring her that with ‘God as her oath’, the angel’s words were true: with God…nothing is impossible.
Our second wise woman’s name may mean ‘bitterness’…and yet, Mary appeared to be anything but when first mentioned in the scriptures. We are told that she was a virgin, being all of perhaps thirteen years of age when her encounter with the angel Gabriel changed the course of human history. They say that ‘a baby changes everything’…and for Mary, there couldn’t be a more true statement. Whatever hopes and dreams she may have had…were suddenly not of her own choosing. Her unqualified “yes” to God’s plan for her life…completely open ended with absolutely no strings attached…entailed great personal risk and suffering to be sure.
Being the mother of Jesus, she must have endured seasons of confusion…fear…even darkness as the events of her life unfolded bit by bit. And yet, she never lost faith in God…nor her son, who just happened to also be the Son of the Living God.
If she felt set apart from other women, she didn’t show it. Instead, she seems to have embraced the role of a humble servant…whose only purpose in living was to serve others. If we ever wondered for a moment where Jesus gained his sense of servitude…we needn’t look any further than the one who spent all her waking moments raising him as a child. Even then, she seemed to know that God had a plan.
I can’t help but envision Mary as one wise beyond her years…yet never losing sight of what could have been. She could have been just an ordinary girl engaged to an ordinary carpenter named Joseph…whose life would have resembled a million other girls her age. But instead…God had found favor with her and now she would be called blessed among women. All because…instead of questioning the angel’s words…she gave a resounding “yes…may it be unto me, according to your word.” Such a wise answer for one so young in years…but not in faith.
Our third Wise Woman of Christmas had been a widow for most of her eighty-four years. Her name was Anna, which means ‘favor’ or ‘grace,’ and she spent her entire days and nights fasting and praying in the Temple. Even though she was never permitted to be any closer than the Court of Women…she never felt closer to God.
She evidently had no family, no home, no job. Instead God was her family, the temple her home, and prayer was her occupation. We are told that Anna was a prophetess who was constantly reminding her people that God had promised a Messiah. And so, she spent her entire life ‘waiting’ on the Lord to appear. And appear he finally did.
If ever God’s timing was perfect, it was on that particular day when Anna walked in at the precise moment when Jesus was being presented in the temple just forty day after his birth. It was Anna alone who recognized the child for who he truly was. It didn’t matter that she was forbidden entry into the innermost courts of the temple. God himself was breaking down the dividing walls that separated people one from another.
That day…a child had transformed the Court of Women into the holiest place on earth. And it was Anna…the wise old prophetess…who saw with her very eyes…the Messiah, who had finally come.
And so…for Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna…we give thanks to God for these wise women. All three gifts to us…on this, the second Sunday of Christmas. Amen