We are introduced to Anna in the in-between phase at the beginning of Luke’s gospel: after Jesus’ birth has marked the transition between the Old and New Testaments, but before He has come of age and begun His 3 year mission of spreading the Good News. Though only given a fleeting mention in a single gospel, it was Anna who, along with Simeon, first recognised Jesus as the Messiah.
In her unquestioning belief, Anna approached the infant Jesus as a child herself – the ultimate manifestation of our call to ‘become like little children (to) enter the kingdom of Heaven’ (Matthew 18:3; NIV). Though 84 years old, she had not allowed life to make her cynical – her heart was wide open to receive her saviour. She did not waver in celebrating the presence of the Messiah, but instead rushed to greet Him immediately – ‘at that very moment’ (Luke 2:38; NIV). Like a child she ran to Him with innocence and purity – not a flicker of doubt crossed her mind.
Anna ‘lived with her husband 7 years… and then she was a widow.’ (Luke 2:36-37; ESV). Bearing in mind that in those days girls were married off by their families at the age of around 13-14, this means Anna would have been widowed by 21. Sill so young, she would no doubt have found it easy to marry again, and have been encouraged to do so, and yet she chose instead to remain single and dedicate her life to the Lord. If you’re discerning a single life, or are struggling with your singlehood, take courage from Anna. Her singleness empowered her to do things for God that a married woman would never have achieved from the shadows of her husband’s authority!
Through fasting, praying and dedicating her every moment to the pursuit of God’s kingdom, Anna spent year preparing herself to receive Christ in His human form. This devotion drew her ever closer to God in heaven while she was on earth. That closeness enabled her to prophesy the birth of the Messiah as she ‘gave thanks to God’ for the miracle child that was placed in her arms. Let's not underestimate the power that God gave her here - in a society even more patriarchal than today, God was making a stand by choosing a woman as a prophetess. He was showing that he loves us all equally regardless of gender or social status!
Anna had undying patience. I know that this is something I for one am inexhaustibly lacking in! I want God to tell me exactly what He wants from me right now – I want certainty and clarity and I want Him to give me a clear-cut plan for my life. Have you ever felt like that? It’s easy to be tempted to give up waiting and carve out your own path, but Anna ‘never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying’ (Luke 2:38; NIV). She didn’t spend all her time asking what God could do for her, she devoted her life to discerning what she could do for Him. She remained as close to Him as she could and spread His message to anyone who entered the temple. As Psalm 40 describes – ‘I waited patiently upon the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry’ (Psalm 40:1; NIV). The Lord did indeed hear her cry, and that patience was rewarded by God with the greatest privilege – meeting His son before she died.
She was not afraid to share her faith. She ‘spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Luke 2:38; NIV). ‘Looking forward to redemption’ pretty much refers to everyone there. All the Jews at the time preached dependence on the Messiah who they believed WOULD come, yet only a minute subset were open to the idea that the Messiah HAD come. Rather than restrict her reach to celebrating with the few who already believed, Anna stepped out in faith knowing she would be met with doubt and mockery.
Though it may be impractical for those of us not entering religious life to spend as much time as Anna did in church, her constant communication with God reminds us to maintain our conversation with Him wherever we are: cycling to lectures, sitting in the office, lying in bed at night – there is nowhere that he can’t listen when we talk. Her patience and devotion reveal the value of fasting and waiting on the Lord. Like Anna, we should strive to remove the worldly values that hold us back from Him and replace them with the hope of eternal life and faith that He will always deliver.