This advent season, join me in considering the life of one who was waiting for the Christ to come, waiting for the Messiah, the Promised One. Her life could not have been easy, but this did not deter her from clinging to the promises of God. This is why is spoke so profoundly to me: in our own trials, in the midst of waiting, or even in seasons marked by feeling out of control or stuck. Immanuel has come, and is the One who is with us, and is coming again.
Before we consider this passage, let us realize one of the most important characteristics of Anna. She was a woman who looked forward in faith. Anna had spent a lifetime waiting–though she knew not that she waited for a baby. A childless widow, waiting for the redemption promised long ages ago, she recognized what she was waiting for when she saw the infant Jesus.
A very brief history of the waiting
After Israel and Judah were in captivity, and the temple was destroyed, and 70 years passed, and a remnant returned to rebuild, many from each tribe settled in or near Jerusalem–some returned to their own cities, but not all. We read in Ezra and Nehemiah of the rebuilding. They did not ‘own’ their former land in the same way. Some in the tribe of Asher remained in Jerusalem.
Anna is a reminder to us that God always has a remnant. In Amos, the northern 10 tribes are accused of forsaking Jerusalem and worshipping instead at Bethel, in ways not prescribed by God.
Even in those dark days–the 400ish years of no Word from God–God had people set apart, people who had not forsaken His ways, people who prayed to and worshiped the One True God alone. When most were disdainfully sniffing at God’s ways (see Malachi 1) God had a remnant. People waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem, God’s City, the place of His Temple, of His dwelling among His people.
400ish years later….
Luke 2:36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She did not leave the temple grounds, serving night and day with fasts and prayers. 38 And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak about Him to all those who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Who was Anna the Prophetess,
Daughter of Phanuel–whose name means “face of God.” See Psalm 80:3, 19 written concerning this apostasy and removal of the northern tribes: O God, restore us, and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.” The daughter of “face of God” looked into the newborn face of the Son of God. No one has seen God, but the Son of God came to make Him seen, to explain Him, to make Him manifest, to lead Him out to be seen! (John 1:14-18)
The tribe of Asher, meaning “happy, blessed.” Could Anna have been more happy, more blessed?!! This tribe was given the blessing in Genesis 49:20 to have wealth and royal delicacies, fit for a king. She looked upon her King; what wealth!
Anna was faithful
Anna the prophetess was living at the end of this 400ish years, this famine for the Word. The famine ended when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, when the Bread of Heaven came. And when she saw Him, she was among those that adored, worshipped, and prophesied.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine of bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the Lord.
People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will roam about to seek the word of the Lord,
But they will not find it. Amos 8:11-12
Anna served night and day, as a widow, fasting and praying, in the Temple grounds. Faithful. Waiting, watching. She was loyal to Temple worship, unlike the tribe of Asher before exile, unlike those in Malachi… Anna was unlike those in every generation who grasp at straws to create (or manifest or declare) their own ‘blessings.’
Because she was waiting, Anna was ready to see her redemption draw near! No one knew the redemption of Jerusalem, Israel would come like this–most expected something more grand than a baby born to a poor family. But when a baby was presented at the temple, she recognized what she had been waiting for. This would have been after the 40days purification. Google maps tells me it is a two hour walk nowadays. Then? With a newborn? Was Mary feeling very fit, healed?
Anna saw Jesus’ physical face, the Light shone in her heart, and she could not keep quiet! She shared her new knowledge, she gave Him glory. Anna may have grown as weary as any of us, but weariness and old age and cultural standing did not prevent her from continually declaring the good news.
Jesus was sent in the fulness of times, and was seen by Simeon and Anna–two witnesses of His beginning to fulfill all righteousness on our behalf. Consider how God included a female witness in this moment; historically and culturally women were not considered trustworthy as witnesses, Jesus changed all that! He valued men and women, calling both sexes to be disciples, to be His siblings, to spread His gospel and live together under the Word.
When we are waiting upon the LORD, faithfully serving and living for His glory, we too will recognize His work, and declare His works to our own and the coming generations.
Neither Anna nor Simeon had an official role in the temple–they were there to worship and learn but not because they had a job. This was their free time!!!! Simeon chosen by God to give a special blessing to Mary and Joseph. Anna chosen by God to speak of the One who would redeem Jerusalem to all who would listen!
Anna had a different audience; she spoke to anyone coming to the Temple awaiting true comfort, the fulfilling of God’s promises. “And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak about Him to all those who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Not just teaching, not just healing of our brokenness, these past few years I’ve heard so many reduce the Gospel to healing, or others change it a form of self-actualizaing/self-help. The Gospel brings healing and wholeness, and forgiveness, and reconciliation, and redemption…No doubt, Anna would not reduce it. Spend some time this winter thinking of all we are redeemed from: sin, death, slavery to various appetites and ungodly desires, fear of death, ‘every lawless deed,’ the futile way of life inherited from our forefathers…all that destroys us. With redemption comes healing, with redemption comes an everlasting inheritance, and Life.
Hebrews 9:12 through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all time, having obtained eternal redemption.
Like Anna, we are waiting…
We wait for what we do not see; we labor and strive in the waiting because we have set our hope on the Living God! (Romans 8:22-25; Hebrews 9:28; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Tim 4:10) The Living God, not a static or stoic or in any way boring God. The Source of Life, of love, of joy, of peace. The One who created us to share in His love, and has promised to continually be with us. We wait for the day when God With Us, Emmanuel, returns or takes us home.
As you ponder Anna waiting, all those long years during the famine for His Word, and you ponder her reaction to seeing baby Jesus, knowing He is the Lord’s Christ, and being filled with wonder and joy that bubbled over into her speech, ask yourself: do I truly wait for God to answer my prayers, to fulfill His promises? Do I long for Jesus’ return? Would I marvel at His coming?
photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash