Remember Anna? She’s one of our often overlooked sisters from Scripture. As with Elizabeth, we don’t usually hear much about Anna, except sometimes, once a year, at Christmas.
When Jesus was about a month old, Mary and Joseph took Him to the temple to fulfill the requirement of the Levitical law of purification. And that’s where they encountered Anna.
Now, just a little lagniappe here, the purification ceremony where we meet Anna was completely separate from Jesus’ circumcision ceremony.
Circumcision took place when the baby was eight days old, probably in the parents’ home or possibly in the local synagogue (the synagogue was sort of a “branch campus” of the temple in towns that were outside of Jerusalem). Mary would not have been able to enter the synagogue in Bethlehem or the temple in Jerusalem for Jesus’ circumcision since she would still have been ceremonially unclean from His birth.
The purification ceremony that made her ritually clean again took place when Jesus was 33 days old at the temple in Jerusalem. A sacrifice was offered for Mary’s cleansing and Jesus was dedicated to the Lord. (see Leviticus 12)
I spell this all out because, if you’re like me, and you hear the Luke 2 account of Jesus’ birth every year, you tend to let it wash over you without really thinking about it. I never really gave much thought to the fact that these were two different events in two different places until I was studying about Anna.
And Luke 2 presents all of these events in kind of a machine gun fashion so it can practically feel like everything in that chapter is happening on the same day, and we can conflate things we shouldn’t. For example, many people think that Simeon and Anna were married just because their stories appear back to back in Luke 2. As we’re about to see, that wasn’t the case.
Let’s take a look at Anna’s story:
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.Luke 2:36-38
Anna had a lot of strikes against her in life:
She was a woman. In Anna’s day, women were “low man on the totem pole” so to speak. They were regarded as less than men in practically every way- intelligence, abilities, worth, and so on. They couldn’t testify in court because their testimony wasn’t considered credible. And, maybe you’ve even heard of the daily prayer that Jewish men still say today, thanking God for not creating them a gentile…a slave…or a woman.
She was a widow, and possibly childless. A woman of that time without a husband or grown children to take care of her would have been in very real danger of poverty.
She was old. Average life expectancy in Anna’s day was 55. She was 84. When you’re 84 in ancient times with no modern medicine, you’re feeling it.
So, Anna was a woman, she was a widow, and she was old. She had some disadvantages. But Anna didn’t let those things stop her from serving the Lord full throttle. In fact, she took some of those supposed disadvantages and put them to work for her.
If Anna had had a husband to care for or children to raise, she wouldn’t have had the time or the energy to serve the Lord full time. And she wouldn’t have had the opportunity either, because no one in that culture would have thought it appropriate for a woman with a husband and children to abandon them to stay in the temple.
Also, in a culture that respected its elderly, it’s likely that more people – especially younger women – would have listened to her than if she had not been so advanced in years.
So Anna turned these disadvantages into opportunities. And what did she do with those opportunities? She used them to serve God and to tell people about Jesus.
That’s what the Christian life is all about – serving God and telling others about Jesus – whatever your station in life.
Maybe you’re single like Anna, and God has blessed you with the time and freedom to serve Him full time – or at least fuller time than you’d otherwise be able to.
Maybe you do have a husband and children- and God has given you the opportunity to serve Him by serving them: pouring the gospel into your children, being a godly helpmate to your husband, and being a faithful, serving member of your church.
Maybe you’re older, and instead of using your golden years for travel or hobbies or shopping, God is leading you to teach younger women or throw yourself into ministry in some way.
Anna’s example to us is to bloom where God plants us and grab hold of every opportunity to serve Him and tell others about Jesus.