It’s mid-December. As usual at this time in the month, I am searching for the bin of bows and ribbons that was clearly mis-stored last year. The tree is up, the lights have been hung throughout the house, seasonal “fru-fru” candles are burning, packages are arriving daily by mail (none yet by drone). You’d think we were anticipating something special.
We join millions in our preparations; the paradoxical impression is that nearly the whole world is bustling about-standing still, anxiously awaiting a particular moment. And as I drive down the streets at night noting the newest trend in outdoor lighting, I wonder if the scale of preparation is in proportion to the event being anticipated. Do we know what we are waiting for? Are we fixated on the wrong distant star? What if December 25 comes and goes and nothing changes about my life? What will happen for the next 364 days? What have I been doing for the last 364 days?
There was a woman who lived two millennia ago whose life exemplified anticipation.
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)
A life in 4 sentences. Eighty-four years summed up in about 90 words: lineage, marriage, widowhood, temple service—and an encounter with the Messiah, the redemption of Jerusalem. With just these verses, we are given only a glimpse into her life. Was her husband a servant in the temple as well? Did she sorrow over her childlessness? Did she begin her temple service because there were no family members to care for her once she had lost her husband? How many of those years between her widowhood and the time of Mary’s purification did she serve in the temple and did she begin spending her time there 24/7 or did she work up to that level of devotion? What did she do after she saw Jesus and worshiped him and proclaimed him to be the Christ?
It’s unlikely Luke sought out Anna to interview for his gospel account since she had probably died by then, but I suspect that if he had been able to meet with her and ask her those background questions, she would have rapped him on the nose with her walking stick and told him to focus on the only thing that’s important here, now and forever—the glorious and magnificent coming of the Messiah.
Since there is so much about her we don’t know and we would have to rely upon speculation and fancy to fill in the gaps, let’s take the safe route, which I think is still joyfully rich with instruction about our Lord and his prophetess. Here are 4 things we can confidently draw from those 4 sentences about Anna and her encounter with the Christ child:
1. Anna didn’t need pomp and circumstance to alert her to the arrival of a king — the King. She was given eyes to see the Messiah in a baby.
And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (Matthew 13:11)
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
2. She was visited by the Son of God in her loneliness, lowliness and poverty.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:17-19)
3. She knew the prophecies of old and, believing the God of the Scriptures, believed the words of his mouth.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’ (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
4. Anna was satisfied with her life devoted to God.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)
For years—possibly as many as six decades if she married as a teen and lost her husband in her early twenties—Anna waited. She forsook her life outside the temple and humbly and joyfully took on the garb of a servant. She served her Lord with love, trusting him, and holding fast her confidence that he would fulfill his promises, his covenant to provide a Seed that would redeem her people. Was she able to discern that the Jerusalem she knew was merely the earthly home of God’s people and that the coming of his Son would open the door of the eternal city to all who know God through him? Had she been given understanding of those mysteries as well, being the prophetess that she was? We don’t know, but the Holy Spirit designates her a prophetess in this Luke account, so her understanding may have been more than most. Being a prophetess, it’s possible she was vocal in sharing her confidence in the Lord’s trustworthiness and faithfulness —an evangelist who found her mission field within the temple itself!
We don’t know what Anna did after she saw the Babe, but if her life after was in any way similar to her life before, we can guess that it was filled with thankfulness, anticipation and devotion—and ongoing testimony to the Lord. Christmas to her was more than one day. It was her whole life. The anticipation of the coming of the Messiah filled every moment of her days from her youth to her old age. There weren’t any vacations. There weren’t any times set aside for busyness. This was life for Anna.
Sometimes I see a lit star propped on a rooftop, or a single simple cross in a field amidst fences and trees outlined in lights. Is it there to remind me that there is more to Christmas life than Christmas day or Christmas season. There is more to come, more to anticipate, beyond December 25. There is a life of contented service in a Lord I trust, whose Scriptures I believe, which say that he will come again to gather his people. Do I anticipate his second coming with joy and feast on every word of the Bible that magnifies him? Is mine a life that would go down in the books as one of service and devotion, waiting for redemption? What words are known to proceed from my mouth, those that focus on me or those that proclaim the majesty and glory and dominion of the One True King, the only Savior, Jesus Christ?
On December 26 and beyond, may my life and words be O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Photo credit: Iulia Enkelana