Anna was one of the biblical women who emerge from historical obscurity to be immortalized in the Christmas story. She was present when Simeon spoke his famous prophetic words over the infant Jesus and his mother.
Anna’s life demonstrates an important quality: every day faithfulness. Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:38-40) says she “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” This tells us something important. All of her life was lived for God all of the time. Every day.
C.S. Lewis delivered a sermon to students at Oxford University at the beginning of the second world war. He attempted to answer a question that was on the minds of the students and faculty: what is the relevance of pursuing a university education in war-time? Many in the academic community knew that the war would change everything about their way of life. Many of the students would be sent to fight or serve the war effort in other ways.
He preached that there has never been a time in history when the world is free of crises, alarms and emergencies. If we wait until life is absolutely secure to pursue knowledge and beauty, we will never do it at all, he said.
He added that the life we have been given is for us to prepare for eternity. War simply causes us all to be more acutely aware of that fact. So the normal daily activities of our lives are to be offered to God. Lewis quoted Romans 14:23, “Whatever does not come from faith is sin,” and 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Do all for the glory of God.” He said, “All merely natural activities will be accepted if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest will be sinful if they are not.” He said that, yes, we should continue in war-time to study and learn as at any other time.
Anna was part of a movement of the Jewish faithful who were bursting with anticipation. These people “were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). I wonder if they were familiar with the prophecies of Daniel who gave his people a time-line for the coming of Messiah (Daniel 9:25). Those who knew the scriptures believed that the time for his coming was drawing near.
Of course they did not know their Messiah would be born in a stable, grow up in Nazareth of Galilee, and live among the poor. But Anna was also a prophet of God. She was given special insight. When she saw the child Jesus at his dedication in the temple, she gave thanks that she was seeing the holy child who was the salvation of God (Luke 2:30).
Anna was 84 years old. Despite her advanced age, she remained active and faithful in the service of the Jewish temple. It has been suggested that she may have been a caretaker, or servant, or housekeeper for the priests. Every day faithfulness.
Luke includes an interesting detail about Anna. She was of the tribe of Asher. This was one of the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel who were conquered in 722 B.C. by the Assyrian army and scattered among their provinces, one of the “ten lost tribes” of Israel.
How then could her tribe be identified and why were there descendants of Asher in Jerusalem? The answer is because when Jeroboam led the northern tribes in revolt against the Judeans in the south, “some from every tribe of Israel . . . set their hearts on seeking the Lord” (2 Chronicles 11:13-17). They rejected idol worship and migrated to Judah to live so they could worship the true God in his temple. Their descendants remained in the south, one of whom was Anna. Faithfulness to God was her spiritual heritage.
She was faithful in prayer. She was thinking of others as she prayed. She was thinking of her nation as she prayed. Like devout Simeon, she was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (the coming of Messiah). Her prayers were for the advent of the Christ!
Her hope was realized. It was not mere happenstance that she appeared “at the very moment” that Joseph and Mary brought the child to be dedicated in the Temple and Simeon gave his prophecy. (Can this be a reminder to us that the events of our lives are not to be attributed to mere luck or coincidence? Is there not a higher purpose behind them?) Luke implies that her coming “at that very moment” was significant. She had been praying expectantly, and now in this defining moment, her prayers were answered. There before her was the infant Messiah, the Redeemer, the Consolation of Israel.
The rest of the New Testament explains this. This dedication of the child to the Lord was also a public naming event. Joseph and Mary named him “Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Simeon said that he was seeing God’s salvation embodied in this redeemer-child.
I read once about a pastor, who, on the Sunday after the tragedies of September 11, 2001, stood before his congregation and said, “I have nothing to say,” and sat down. The effect was dramatic. But his words reflected a failure of Christian hope. What he might have said was, “I have nothing to say. But God has spoken. Hear the word of the Lord,” and then read the consoling words of the scriptures.
Anna lived in a time when there was plenty of bad news. Her nation was under the domination of a ruthless world empire, corrupt rulers and hypocritical spiritual leaders. But she knew there would be people who would welcome the good news of the Christ child. “She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” She did not keep this to herself. She was faithful to speak about Jesus. That is a good reminder to us.
Pastor Randy Faulkner