I’ve been preparing for a series of Christmas sermons, and one of those will be on Anna, the prophetess who saw the child Jesus at His dedication in the Temple. Luke says this about her. “A prophetess, Anna. . .was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day” (Luke 2:36-37). All day this one particular phrase has bothered me: “she never left the temple.”
In the Greek language this literally means, “She kept on not leaving.” It wasn’t that she was too lazy to head for the door. Instead, she intentionally and actively engaged in not leaving the presence of God. Have you ever had a visitor to your house who “kept on not leaving”? They headed to the door six times, but they keep finding something to say and reasons to hang out. Sometimes that is good, like when a best friend you don’t get to see very often has stayed the weekend or the grandchildren must head home but you don’t want them to go. Other times . . . .
Here’s a woman who has been a widow for more years than I’ve been alive, yet she never left the temple. She never fell away or became faithless. She could have given up on God because she was a widow after only seven years of marriage, perhaps feeling neglected by God and society. She could have turned her back on her religion because life wasn’t turning out as she hoped. She could have shouted, “It MUST be someone’s fault. I’ll blame it on God! That’ll teach Him.” But she didn’t. She chose never to leave the temple.
I want to be like that. I want to keep on NOT leaving the presence of God. I don’t mean keep on not leaving church, or the building we call the “church.” I’m talking about not leaving the actual presence of God.
And yes, sometimes I feel like I’ve left the presence of God. I’ve become so busy with my own agenda that I’ve left God at the house while I’ve done a bunch of running around without Him.
Some of you probably thought I’d say I left the presence of God while I was in the midst of sin. And yes, I have been in the midst of sin. Walked right into it knowingly, willingly, and sometimes even did some advance planning for the sin to take place! But I found that it was then, in the midst of carrying on in something I knew was wrong, that I felt the presence of God most strongly. And you know that conviction I felt in the middle of that sin? That was God saying “Jim, there are better ways of not leaving My presence.”
Of all the passages of Scripture I could be thinking about this holiday season, I keep thinking about Anna, who kept on not leaving the presence of God. Although she was a widow in advanced years, she found a way to be in God’s presence, thankful for her place and finding ways to serve others. I want to be like Anna and perhaps, in that way, be a little more like Christ.