Scripture Meditation: Luke 2:36-40

Queen Anne Christian Church
January 1, 2012

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child* to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

Who is this woman Anna and what does she have to do with the circumcision and naming of Jesus.  She is mentioned only once in scripture and the only information we have about her is in these three verses, not a lot to go on.  We don’t even know if Anna really existed, she may be a creation of Luke because the role Anna plays is important in the telling of his story.

When I read these few sentences something stuck out for me.  Here is woman who is living in the temple, praying night and day, fasting night and day, and considered a Prophet, a woman!  In a culture where women had only marginally better status than the household’s donkey this is amazing.  But, Luke does give her great status within the Jewish culture; first of all he names her of the Tribe of Asher who was the seventh son of Jacob, so she has social credibility with temple authorities.  Her husband’s name, Phanuel, which means “Face of God”, seems to foreshadow the very life she has lived all her years in the temple, praying and fasting, focusing her entire life on God.   Her act of devotion and obedience to God appears to be exemplary, and she also appears to be one of kind.   While it isn’t unheard of in scripture, after all there were women judges in the Hebrew Scriptures so women traditionally did play an important role in prophecy, but the impressions we receive from the Christian Scriptures are that a woman’s role had diminished to simple household duties.

So why would Luke even bring up this seemingly insignificant woman?  After all she doesn’t play a role in the ceremony; in fact, she just seems to be at the right place, at the right time to meet Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  It is her response to that event that Luke is emphasizing here.   Unlike Simeon, Anna doesn’t bless the child, or Mary and Joseph, she doesn’t offer advice, doesn’t even offer a warning about what they will endure.   Rather she understands only one thing her prayers, which she’d been offering for long years, had been answered, because Anna sees the Face of God in Jesus.  Even though this small child is only 40 days old she recognizes his importance to her people.  And, what does she do:  Anna immediately begins to praise God, and tell everyone she knows that she has seen the future of Jerusalem.  Anna, a woman, yes a well respected and honored woman but a woman, becomes the first to spread the Good News.   Anna becomes the voice of the voiceless in the culture of her day.  She’s not telling the Chief Priest, or any other temple big wig, she’s telling those “who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem,” Anna is telling the ones who had suffered the most under the rule of the Romans and even under their own Jewish authorities.

Anna lived in the temple, she knew how it was run, she understood that many temple authorities were abusing their power, to gather wealth and power to themselves at the expense of the people God had placed in their care.  Yet in all that time Anna never lost her faith, she knew a change was coming and when she saw the first glimmer in the eyes of a baby she could not contain herself, she had to broadcast it.  Anna may not have known how the life of this newborn would alter the world she knew, actually rock the Jewish and Roman world to its core, but that didn’t matter, it didn’t matter because she saw  hope in the eyes of a child, It didn’t even matter that she had no knowledge as to what kind of hope was coming, she simply had to tell what she saw.

Today we start a New Year, a year of promise and yes a year of change.  Traditionally the symbol of the New Year is a child, representing new life and new opportunities for the coming year.  Unfortunately we have come to see the New Year promises as only political, economic and material, but I wonder how Anna would see them.  Would she see hope in the latest gadget to buy, would she make a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight, or to pray more?  I don’t think so, I think she would look into the eyes of the New Year’s Child and see hope of different kind.  A hope of a better tomorrow, redemption of the New Jerusalem, a hope that draws us closer to a relationship with God and God into a closer relationship with us.  Anna never knew what would take place 30 years later, just as we don’t know what will happen in the year, or years,  to come.  That didn’t stop her from being the first to shout out that hope was at hand, and it shouldn’t stop us from shouting out the same thing today.

Today we are some 20 centuries past the birth of Jesus, and yes a lot has happened within the church we aren’t particularly proud of, but, there is also a lot that we should be exclaiming with praise.  Anna was shouting that change was coming and a good change at that, if people listened.  Well I am shouting out that change is coming to us as well.  In the last 5 years I have worshiped and studied with people of many different denominations and there is one very important lesson all of us agree upon and that is Church as we have known it is undergoing a radical change.  Now I don’t mean individual churches, like Queen Anne, we are a part of the greater Church, but we are only one part.   I mean Church, the Greater Body of Christ, God and Holy Spirit. I mean the Church made up of every tradition, whether followers of Christ, Islam, YHWH, Buddha, or any other expression of God that draws people into relationship with the Creator.  If Anna were here today she’d be shouting from the rooftops that how we worship, the ways we express our spirituality, and how we care for the ‘other’ are evolving into a new expression of God in creation.  She would be saying, I see the future in the young and old alike who have awakened to discover they want more than what those of the Baby Boomer Generation have grown comfortable with.  Anna would be telling you, no long will the 1 or 2 hours on Sunday Morning be enough, that a time is coming when all will take their awakened spirituality and apply it to their lives, to live in a new way, where Sunday Morning, or Wednesday Evening, or Tuesday at noon becomes a time to celebrate lives enriched by a living faith. But, the real job, the real life, of being co‑creators’ with the Great Spirit comes in our everyday living together.

Simeon warned Mary and Joseph to be prepared for heart break, and I think he would offer us that very same warning because we too will live through heart break.  It is never easy creating something new and alive.  There will be, there are right now, birth pangs.  Suffering will take place, all of us will have to walk through some dark places, shedding some old ways, adapting others, and creating new ones.  But  like Anna we cannot be worried about that, just as she only wanted to let the world know that something new is coming and to get ready, we too need to tell and help prepare the hearts, minds, and spirits of our fellow travelers for new life.  Anna didn’t know what the future would bring; she was only the harbinger, the robin, or first crocus of a new spring that would rock the World as she knew it.

We have just entered winter, yet deep in what looks like a lifeless ground there are stirrings of new life, ready to be born.  New green shoots will shoot up and spread their leaves and produce the fruit of a new world.  Within the hidden places of the earth there are animals sleeping and preparing for the spring, having their young that will grow up to become the next generation.  Our Churches are like that, we too are ready to send out shoots to grow into new green life, we too are ready to shelter the young so that they will grow into a new strong generation of Christ’s Body.  Luke ends this passage with the young family returning to Galilee where the “child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God.”  Today we are  the ones to shelter, and fill with wisdom the young who will follow us and take up the new life of the Body of Christ.  More importantly we are the Anna’s of today, shouting out the first good news of a new spring.   It is up to us to shout out “I’ve seen the Face of God, hope is coming and it will be good.”


©Ruth Jewell, January 1, 2012

A Pre-Christmas Meditation

Luke 1:78-79
78By the tender mercy of our God, 
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

     It is the first full day of winter, Christmas is just 3 days away and the sun has just broken over the trees to the east of us; it is a bright, cold, winters morning.  I’ve been re-reading the above scripture from Luke as I watch the sun climb into the sky. We used these verses yesterday for our prayer group Lectio Divina and I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind, therefore, I ‘m not supposed to.  I NEED to continue to consider what they mean to me.

These are the last two verses of the prophecy Zechariah speaks when John (the Baptist) is presented to the temple.  Mind you these are the first words Zechariah has spoken for 9 months so he’s put a lot of thought into this moment.  This is part of the Christmas Story we don’t hear much of yet it is a beautiful piece and one worth remembering.  John after all is the one who announces the coming of the Messiah and, in the synoptic Gospels, baptizes him. (Just in case you’ve never noticed there is no baptism in the Gospel of John.) John also recognizes the divinity of Jesus from the womb when the pregnant Mary approaches Elizabeth.  So John has a role in this divine birth narrative.   

     While the prophecy Zechariah speaks tells us his son will be the one to prepare the way for the Messiah, these two verses are really about the coming role of the Messiah, the light that will shine in darkness.  Zechariah knows what it is like to be in darkness; from the day Gabriel announced to him he’d have a son he had been unable to speak.  For a Jewish Priest the inability to speak is a kind of darkness, for being unable to speak the words of God is like putting out the light for those who need the comfort of the WORD.   These two verses don’t refer to sunlight, they refer to Son Light, and the WORD spoken that draws us out of our darkest moments, pulling us away from the death of a life lived in the shadows.

The footnote for verse 78 tells us that there is another ancient interpretation of line two, “… the dawn from on his has broken upon us,”  instead of “… The dawn from on high will break upon us,” and that changes the meaning of the two verses.   I happen to like the ancient version of that line because it means there is no waiting for the Good News, it is now, always has been now.  We have never had to wait for the WORD, all we’ve had to do is open our ears, eyes, hearts, and listen.

The birth of Jesus is the embodiment of the Divine, the Holy Spirit, who wanted us to see the WORD that had been repeated over and over again by messengers throughout the ages.  But Jesus added to the Spirits message, He just didn’t speak the words, and berate those who had fallen away; he acted the WORDS, which was a significant change in the game plan for G-D.  No longer are we to hear the message we are to act it out.  If we are to honor the Child in the manger then we must do more that kneel and give homage. We are to remember Jesus was born homeless and poor, which means that the light, the words we offer, must lead the homeless and poor, in body and spirit, out of the darkness.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with the Christmas Season.  I dislike the gift giving, the hoopla, the commercials, and the insincerity of the greetings people give.  I have always wondered how I will change to make this moment meaningful for myself and for those I love.  I finally have come to the conclusion giving expensive gifts and preparing an overly elaborate dinner is not Christmas.  That does nothing to honor the dawn that has broken upon us.  So this year I offer my gifts to the homeless and the poor.  The money for dinner went to feed the poor.  That is my Christmas gift to family and friends, the light of the WORD acted out. I know I can’t care for all of the poor, homeless, or mentally ill, there are too many and they tug at my heart.  I want to gather them all up, human and non-human, and hold them, give them warm clothes, good meal, and a safe place to rest.  I can only offer what little I have.

Holy Spirit, love was born that night in a stable and the WORD became visible to all who could see.  I pray that now in the messiness of emphatic change in how we hear and see the spirit we will all gather at the manger and offer not gifts of gold, or IPods, or gameboys, but rather offer love, compassion, mercy, and justice for those whose have lived in darkness for too long. My prayer is I will hear you, touch you and listen with an open heart, ear and eye.  May my mouth be opened to offer the overflowing love you have given me, let me be the shepherd to guide people on the path to your peace.

©Ruth Jewell, December 22, 2011


This has been an odd Christmas for me.  Usually by this time I’ve baked cookies and stollen, prepared pie crusts, wrapped dozens of presents and decorated the house.  None of that has occurred, all I really want to do is sit and read and listen for the silence.  Just before Thanksgiving one of my friends was talking about celebrating an “it’s not my birthday Christmas,” where instead of presents for yourself you ask for gifts for a charity.   I’ve given that quite some thought and I like that idea.

I’ve really always disliked receiving presents anyway, they are usually things I don’t need and often don’t want.   And, while I would give great thought to the gifts I gave I often felt the recipients of my gifts had the same feeling.   So this year I’ve done things a bit differently.  Instead of buying gifts for family and friends, I told them I was giving, in their name, a gift to the Chief Seattle Club, a day shelter for homeless urban Native Americans and First Nations Peoples.  I asked that instead of gifts for me that they would either send a gift for the Chief Seattle Club or give a gift in my name to a charity of their choice.  No wrapping, no shopping, no shipping and someone who really needs our gifts would receive them.  In addition since I wasn’t going to cook a big dinner I gave the money I would have spent to the Chief Seattle Club for their Christmas dinner.  I don’t think I’ve enjoyed preparing and giving a gift so much in my whole life.

Yes, I know I haven’t done my part for the economic recovery and as a result someone somewhere may not have my few pennies for their Christmas.  But shouldn’t Christmas be a time of reflection and not consumerism, a time to remember the graces given to us by God throughout the year and offer our gifts of thanks to the Christ Child.  As I remember, it isn’t what you give but how you give that matters.  Tradition tells us that Jesus was born in a stable and laid manger, he was poor and homeless most of his life and giving gifts to those who can’t provide for themselves seems like the proper offering to the Child in the hay.  As I was dropping off my gifts at the Chief Seattle Club I had to turn away homeless men who also wanted my gifts but I am unable to feed and clothe all of the homeless, and I wonder sometimes if God understands there are too many people who can’t care for themselves and that there are way too many people who tug at my heart.  I wish I had more to give.  If I had the billions that some people had I would go from homeless shelter to homeless shelter just handing out gifts, but I don’t, and I don’t know what to do about that.  I do the best I can and hope that is good enough.

So what will I be doing for Christmas?  Well, I will be in church offering a gift of another kind, prayers and service.  As an Intern Pastor I am participating in the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day service at Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle, WA.  I am grateful to be able to give to those who come to the services prayer, song and love and I am honored to read a Christmas Story I wrote a number of years ago titled “The Innkeeper” on Christmas Day.

May you be filled with the blessings of the Christ Child and may you pass on those blessings to those who are hungry, cold, suffering and/or homeless.  For it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Peace and Love this Christmas Season

©Ruth Jewell, December 19, 2011

Building a Road

Isaiah 40:3-4

3 A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our G-d.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.’

I have read and heard this scripture read I don’t know how many times and it is only this morning that I took a hard look at how it is punctuated.  This isn’t someone in the wilderness crying out, it really is a voice sending us into the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, and that changed how I looked at this scripture.

As I read this several times I realized Isaiah isn’t talking about going out into nature but rather to travel inward to the desert of my heart, the valleys of my despair, an over  inflated ego, and all of the lumps and bumps I cross on the road of life.    It takes faith to create a highway where no road has ever been and what could be lonelier than the empty places in my own heart.  Making way for G-d means I must open a door, pull up the weeds that block the entry and let G-d in.  It is something I have to choose to do and to complete with the only expectation that G-d will come, belief and faith is all I have to build that road.

What is amazing is what happens when I do finish the way and G-d comes!  Wow, the valleys of my despair are lifted up into the light and I learn that my own ego is the real stumbling block to G-d.  Letting G-d travel the highway of my heart my ego takes on a reasonable size and the roads I travel become level like a smooth plain.

This isn’t about someone crying in the wilderness, unless the person crying is me.  Rather it’s about what I must do in order to get ready to accept the gifts G-d gives me every day.  Gifts such as a golden sunrise, or sunset that tingles my heart and takes my breath away.   Gifts such as the love I receive from my beloved and friends but often don’t acknowledge.  The gift of time: time to pray, time to sit in silence, time to laugh, time to leap with joy, and yes even time to cry, suffer, and have my heartbroken.  All of these are gifts are given by G-d and all of them provide me with strength, courage, peace, blessings, and comfort, simply because I know the Holy Presence is nearby.  Life will never be easy, but it is bearable when I maintain the highway in the desert of my heart where G-d walks.

©Ruth A. Jewell, December 4, 2011


1 Corinthians 1:7-9 Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that. (Italics mine) The Message

Wow, I just read this as the scripture for my morning meditation and the last sentence just jumped out at me and took my breath away.  G*d, the one and the only, the great I AM set ME, little ol’ ME, on this path, I am astounded that I never thought of it that way before.

Like most people I have enough of an ego to believe that what I do is all my own thought and that often gets me into a whole lot of trouble.  Yet here Paul is telling the people of Corinth, and me, that G*d started this crazy trip and, even more amazing, that same G*d will never give up on me.  Even when I screw up, or tell G*d “no I think I’ll do it my way,” which usually ends up badly, G*d is still there to pick up the pieces, wipe the dirt off my face and place that all important bandage across my wounded heart.

This is the season of Advent and I must admit it is not my favorite time of the year.  Most of my family times their deaths for this part of the calendar, in fact today, December 2, 2011, is the 42nd anniversary of my father’s passing.  So I have some personal issues for a time of the year when most people are excited and filled with joy.  Yet this passage of Paul’s gives me hope.  I do not think it was a coincidence that I chose to read this passage from The Message instead of the NRSV version and I am grateful for the Presence’s help in directing my hand as it passed over the Bibles on my bookshelf.   I could have chosen a version that would have said something a little different and more ‘traditional’ and then I would have just gone on with my day.  But, this passage is more important than I thought.  I am not alone on this journey, G*d will not forget me, no matter where my path leads me the Holy Presence will be there to support me and give me guidance, isn’t that amazing.

In the past two weeks I have received news that could change the way my ministry will happen and knowing that G*d will be along for the journey makes this scary new section of my path a whole lot easier to anticipate.   I know the Holy Spirit is guiding me and that Christ is there to pick me up when I fall and when I get frightened or simply tired G*d will be there to hold me in the palm of her hand and comfort me.  I also know when it’s time to celebrate G*d, Christ, and Holy Spirit will dance through the night with me and we will sing with great joy.  Paul writes “G*d will not give up on us,” and even though I know I will sometimes forget I know G*d won’t and that is all I need to know.

©Ruth Jewell, December 2, 2011