Nobody wants to waste their life. By wasting ones life I mean not grasping those dreams that are natural to the gifts you have and of the desire of the heart. For some people they see their life as wasted because a tragedy has come upon them. For others they see their life as wasted because they gave up time for someone or something that was not worth it in the sense that there was no return on the investment. This could apply to toxic relationships or to addictions that for too long are on the same day to day level in priority as eating, sleeping, breathing and shelter.
But sometimes there is a perspective from the outside in when observing someone that has lived below their means and far from the gifts and amenities that could so be grasped. Someone goes to jail for months or years because of a righteous cause in standing up for the oppressed. I heard of a monk who did not have the money to redeem a slave along with the slave’s brother and so took the slave’s place. What “a waste” if one looks at that with classist values.
But what about God’s point of view looking at unselfish sacrifice? Is it a waste or an investment with a return far above earthly riches? Such is the case for an old widow named Anna. The view of the author and, by extension God, becomes quite clear and beautiful in shedding light on the subject.
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
There was also a prophetess— As the story pivots from old Simeon, who prophesied, to Anna it is mentioned that she is a prophetess. I perceive this as an emphasis for several reasons. One is that Luke frequently writes with narratives that create gender balance. If you see the resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain you must also notice the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus. Second, Anna seems to have provided a testimony of the nature of God and his plan of redemption by her past lifestyle of dedication that then launches her to declare things in words. It is like talking the talk is worthwhile only when you have walked the walk.
She never left the temple— By the time we get to this line, we see her life in the temple as all she had. For her to be widowed after seven years and then go into the temple implies that she was barren and without children from that marriage. There was no law against her being remarried and I am not aware of a practice of kidnapping women and being forced to live a nun-like existence against her will. She chose God’s temple to be her all in all.
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer— And here we see the beautiful note of her will and where she chose her will to be centered. She was a worshiper. As I contemplate the infancy narratives which drawn open hearts to worship God in Christmas, we should remember that worship to God is best in simplicity. Though not everyone is called to live a dedicated religious life, those who do it shine a light to God that illuminates his glory and in the hearts of those who see it and are open.
And coming forward at that very time— This makes the scene very much church though they did not know it as such. She steps in on the coat-tails of Simeon’s prophesy that carries with it glory and suffering. She comes in as a second prophetic speaker in this spontaneous congregation of Jesus and is a second witness (like the Pauline pattern of 1 Corinthians 14) to confirm that this was far more than a circumcision of baby boy but the sneak peak of the Messiah.
she gave thanks to God—- If we blink we will miss it. If she did not have an attitude of worship of those years it would be “Thanks for nothing!” but instead it is a matter of knowing that all those years of service to God mattered and she knew supernaturally what for in someway as she saw the New Temple held by parents in the Old Temple (cf. John 2:18-22).
and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem—- This is rich too. God’s message is one of hope but is to be discerned supernaturally. Once discerned and internalized how does one not declare it to those who you are in contact with?
The message of this story is that God care about you. He wants to be your hope but to experience the superabundance of grace one needs to be where God has called them, worship with all of life and leave the payoff to God. It could be five years in, at the age of 84 or in heaven. But the point is that if you gain Christ, you gain everything. Anna’s five minutes in the presence of Jesus was enough. Is it yours?