Jesus was welcomed by many people when he came into this world: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, Simeon and Anna. Mostly these were fairly ordinary people who were part of God’s extraordinary story because he called them. Anna was our focus on Thursday. An old woman of at least 84, possibly over a hundred. She loved God and spent her time in the Temple. As a result she had the wonderful privilege of meeting Jesus as a six week old baby when Mary and Joseph went there for her Mary’s purification after childbirth.
The readings for the day were 1 John 2:12-17, Psalm 96:1-10, Luke 2:36-40. My reflection is given below:
The Christmas story is certainly one which focuses on those who might normally be looked down upon or ignored. We have Mary – a woman, young, and one who looked like an adulteress, who deserved to be stoned. We have the shepherds, a group of people who were despised in general; rough, smelly people who wandered the hills rather than living in the towns and villages. Then the Magi, Gentiles, inferior to Jews, and ones who perhaps were thought of as using magic which was against the Law. The Holy Family, so ordinary and poor that they couldn’t afford the normal sacrifice of a lamb as well as a dove for the purification of a woman after a birth, but had to give the lesser sacrifice of a second dove. And then the old people, Simeon and Anna. At least in their society they might have had more respect than in ours.
Anna, whom we hear about today, was very old. There is some confusion about whether she was 84 or had been widowed for 84 years. If the latter, she was well over 100 years old. Luke affords her the respect of calling her a prophet, one who spoke for God. When Luke said that she never left the Temple he probably meant that she lived near enough to spend much of her time there. In the morning she would have been able to attend at the time of the sacrifice of the lamb and similarly at three in the afternoon when the evening lamb was sacrificed. She would have heard the singing of psalms and the words of the priests. She may also have overheard some of the many discussions between the learned men of the day as they discussed the meaning of the Scriptures and the growing hope that the Messiah would come. Hers was an extraordinary life, filled with an awareness of God.
We’re told that she worshipped with prayers and fasting day and night. Some translations say that she ‘served’ God rather than worshipped. Her attention was on God all the time. The fact that she had such a good reputation suggests that she was a widow who did the kinds of things Paul commended in his letter to Timothy – looking after strangers, serving others, helping the poor, sick and needy, perhaps like Dorcas, sewing garments for the poor. Maybe younger women came to her for counsel.
We’re not told why she came over to see the Holy Family as Simeon was talking to them and blessing them. Perhaps she was close enough to overhear what Simeon was saying. Perhaps the Holy Spirit nudged her to go and see this poor baby in the same way as Simeon was told by the Spirit to go to the Temple. No doubt baby Jesus was one of many babies who were brought to the Temple each day. It would have taken something special to pick him out. By spending time in prayer regularly it’s likely that Anna was able to recognise the voice of God in whatever way it came to her.
However ordinary Jesus looked, Anna recognised him as the Saviour who had been promised from years before. Her immediate response was not scepticism but an outpouring of praise and thanksgiving to God for sending the Redeemer to save his people from their sins.
True to her title as prophet, Anna then began to tell others about this baby. She spoke to those who were looking for ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’. No doubt others could have heard her, but in the bustle of the busy Temple only those whose ears were attuned to the word of God would have taken any notice. We don’t know what she said when she spoke about the child, but presumably she was inspired by God to tell them that the one they had hoped for had arrived. What a wonderful privilege for Anna in her old age to be able to announce that this six week old baby was the promised Messiah. Like Simeon, her life would never be the same again, whether she lived another day or another decade, she had seen the Promised One and would probably continue to talk about him to any who would listen.
What can we learn from Anna? Certainly that it doesn’t matter how old you are, God can still use you. There is no retirement in the Kingdom of God. Also, we can learn that the Good News we have is to be shared, not kept to ourselves. Anna could have hugged this wonderful news to herself and gone away satisfied, but she shared it. We too have Good News; we each have a story of meeting Jesus in some way. That story is to be shared. Some won’t listen but I’m sure many who were in the Temple that day didn’t listen to Anna. The ones her message reached were those whose hearts were ready for the news, who were looking for something to happen. There are people like that who come to Epiphany and there are similar ones whom we meet in our everyday life. So many people are struggling in life and need hope and comfort. Jesus can provide that if we choose to share the news with others.
Another thing we can learn from Anna is to prepare ourselves. We can’t all attend every service at our nearest cathedral, even if it’s available in SL (though you would be very welcome at every one you can get to!). However, we can spend time listening to the word of God by regular Bible reading. We can build prayer into even the busiest of lives if we really want to. In this way we become familiar with God’s voice and are more likely to notice his prompting if he asks us to say or do something in his service.
Finally, like Anna we should bubble over with thanks and praise to God for all he has done. Maybe Anna was suffering pain in her joints that day, maybe she was hungry or tired, but as soon as she saw the Saviour she expressed her gratitude to God that finally he had come to set his people free from bondage to sin. We’re going to have difficult days too but nothing should be allowed to take away from us the remembrance that in the baby of Bethlehem God came to earth to save us and to make it possible to have eternal life.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor