Pastor Gary Wong, December 13, 2020
36 Anna, a prophetess, was there. She was a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old. She had lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 and then she was a widow of eighty-four years. She did not leave the temple complex, since she was worshipping with fasting and prayers night and day. 38 Standing nearby at that very hour, she gave thanks to the Lord. She kept speaking about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
These days, it’s not unusual for people to be working into their 70’s and beyond. It’s pretty rare, however, that someone would work that long at the same job his entire career. That’s why Rose Syracuse is unique. Syracuse holds the record for being the longest serving employee at Macy’s department store. Rose started working there when she was just 17. She worked in the same store until her retirement at the age of 92—that works out to be 73 years at the same job! When asked what contributed to her amazing achievement, she said, “I was happy there.” Her supervisors praised her for her positive attitude and work ethic: “Rose isn’t a person who seeks attention. She just loves to work.” As remarkable as Rose’s record is, there is another individual who surpasses Rose in dedication and service. Today, we meet an amazing woman by the name of Anna. On this third Sunday in Advent, we celebrate Jesus’ first coming as our Savior and we look forward to his second coming as our King. Let’s follow Anna’s example: let’s always be prepared to meet Jesus.
So, what do we know about this remarkable woman? All we know about Anna is found in just three verses recorded in Luke’s Gospel. As we take a closer look at this snippet of Scripture, we will be blessed and learn more about God’s amazing love for you and me. So, what specifically does Luke tell us about Anna? Well, we find out that Anna’s name means grace. We also learn that her father’s name was Phanuel. As we dig a little deeper, we learn that Anna was from the tribe of Asher, which means ‘happy.” Anna knew that God was blessing her with his undeserved love, and she reflected that love in her attitude and actions towards God and her fellow human beings. God showered her with countless blessings. One of those blessings was the gift of life; more importantly, God gave Anna the gift of eternal life. Anna was born into a God-fearing family. Her father made it his top priority to raise his daughter in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. He taught her God’s Word and shared God’s promises with her. Anna loved the Lord and trusted in God’s promises. She had a strong faith and she lived her faith.
Anna grew up in a loving home that put God first. God then blessed Anna with a family of her own. Luke tells us that Anna was blessed with seven years of marriage. But God, in his infinite wisdom, ended her marriage with her husband’s death. After having experienced just seven years of marital happiness, Anna became a widow. How did Anna respond to this devastating loss? Was she angry at God? Did she lash out at the Lord and blame him? Many who have suffered similar losses would do just what I described; not Anna. While she might not have understood why the Lord had taken her husband at such a young age, she humbly accepted her loss as God’s will. Although Luke doesn’t tell us, I believe that Anna, like Job, would have confessed, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21).
Now, just because Anna had faith in God didn’t mean that she wasn’t grieving. She had just experienced a devastating loss. Anna had left her father’s home to become one with her husband, and then her life’s companion was abruptly taken away from her. She was all alone. What was she going to do? How was she going to pick up the pieces? Since Anna was such a young widow, she might have had thoughts about remarriage. Other widows might have scrambled to find a job because now they had to provide for themselves. Others might throw up their hands in despair because they don’t know what to do. The shock of death is sometimes replaced with deep sadness, loneliness and helplessness. Yet Anna, though she was grieving, knew that she was not alone. She knew where to turn for help. Along with the psalmist, Anna knew that her “help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:2).
Anna knew where to go. From her knowledge of the Scriptures, Anna knew that God had a special place in his heart for widows. In Jesus’ day, widows, especially those who had no children or extended family, were particularly vulnerable because there was no assistance from outside sources like the government. God, therefore, put regulations into the Law of Moses to provide for widows. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminds us that as Christians we are to “give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need” (1 Tim. 5:3). So, what is the widow who finds herself in these circumstances to do? Paul says, “the widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help” (1 Tim. 5:5). Paul might have had Anna in mind when the Holy Spirit inspired him to write these verses. Luke tells us that Anna “never left the temple, but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” (Lk. 2:37 NIV).
Now, a question some might have is why or how could Anna live in the temple? Well, we know from Scripture and other sources that, in addition to the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place where the priests performed their duties, Herod’s temple also included other rooms used for other purposes. It’s likely that Anna lived in one of those rooms. Yet, why would Anna be given the privilege in living in the Lord’s house? Luke tells us that Anna, in addition to having a strong faith, was also a prophetess. Although uncommon, the Bible does speak of other prophetesses such as Miriam and Deborah in the Old Testament and the four unmarried daughters of Philip the Evangelist in the New Testament. So, what did prophetesses do? I think it’s safe to say that prophetesses had similar gifts and abilities as prophets, their male counterparts. In other words, God blessed prophetesses with glimpses into the future; they were sometimes blessed to know things about people without ever having met them. God blessed both prophets and prophetesses with the ability to understand Scripture and the ability to impart that knowledge to others.
So, what did Anna do to occupy her time? Simply put, she worshiped and served the Lord. Like the boy Samuel who served the Lord by assisting Eli in the tabernacle in Shiloh, Anna used her gifts so that the priests could carry out their duties of offering up prayers and sacrifices on behalf of God’s people. Her duties might have included cleaning and keeping the special rooms in order. Yet, as dedicated and hard working as Anna was, she did not neglect to worship the Lord. She made it a top priority to listen to and learn God’s Word. What better place than the temple courts to hear and learn God’s Word, to be reminded of God’s promises, and to grow in faith and godly living?
It’s no wonder Anna never left the temple complex! In the temple she had everything she needed or wanted. There the Lord richly provided for her physical and spiritual needs. As she saw the priests taking the animals to be sacrificed as sin offerings, she recognized that she was a sinner who deserved God’s wrath and punishment. Yet it was also in the temple that she was reminded of God’s promise of sending a Savior who would crush the power of the devil and who would rescue his people from the consequences of their sins. As Anna worshiped and served the Lord, she was looking forward to the day when the long-awaited Messiah would come and redeem mankind. How long did she have to wait? Some translations say that Anna was 84 years old; some manuscripts seem to indicate that Anna might have been a widow for 84 years. Now, the youngest that a Jewish girl could be married was twelve; that would mean that Anna might have been103 years old at the time—now that’s old! In any event, Anna’s patience was rewarded. At the very moment that Mary and Joseph had brought the baby Jesus to present him to the Lord, Anna was in the temple worshiping God. She heard all that Simeon had said about the Christ child. Simeon’s response to God graciously allowing him to see the Savior with his own eyes was to break out in a song of praise. What was Anna’s response? The last thing Luke tells us is that Anna “gave thanks to God and kept speaking about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk. 2:38).
There is so much we can learn from this account as we prepare to meet Jesus. Like Anna, we are also recipients of God’s grace. Even though we didn’t deserve it, our heavenly Father adopted us into his family. We are God’s sons and daughters because Jesus willingly sacrificed his life so that we might have eternal life. The Lord washed away our sins at baptism or when the Holy Spirit worked faith in our hearts through God’s Word. As God’s dearly loved children, we have been given the gift of faith and an inheritance that can never be taken away. It is our God-given faith that opens the door to heaven where we will live with the Lord forever. So, what do we do to get ourselves ready to meet Jesus? Like Anna, we prepare ourselves by staying connected to God’s Word. Our Old Adam needs to hear the law that convicts us of our sins. As we humbly repent, the gospel assures us that God forgives all of our sins for Jesus’ sake. Our new man delights in listening to and obeying God’s Word. We stay ready to meet Jesus as we put our faith into action as we serve the Lord and our fellow human beings with our time, talents and treasures.
Anna was ready to meet her Savior her entire life. She was ready because she had faith. She knew God’s promises and she trusted in those promises. God graciously allowed Anna to see Jesus with her own eyes. We see Jesus through eyes of faith as we read and study his Word. We will see him with our own eyes when he brings us to heaven. The Bible encourages us to “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Pr. 22:6). That verse certainly describes Anna and her father. I pray that the same can be said of all of us. Let’s follow her example. Like Anna, let’s let our lights shine and share the good news of our Savior. Let’s always be prepared to meet Jesus. Amen.
“Hark the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes” (CW 12)
Text: Philip Doddridge, 1702-51, abr., alt.
Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes,
The Savior promised long;
Let ev’ry heart prepare a throne
And ev’ry voice a song.
He comes the captives to release,
In Satan’s prison held.
The gates of brass before him burst;
The iron fetters yield.
He comes the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure,
And with the treasures of his grace
To enrich the humble poor.
Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace,
Your welcome shall proclaim,
And heav’n’s eternal arches ring
With your beloved name.