She waited. And waited. And waited.
She was ever attentive and watchful. Year, after year, after year.
Her capacity to wait stemmed from her unshakeable faith in God and his promises.
Anna was an extremely knowledgeable woman because as a young girl she would have learned about God and the prophecies through her grandparents and parents as they used the oral traditions of teaching and story-telling. And as a grown woman she had constantly been within the Temple which would have provided her ample opportunity every day to study, listen to conversations, discussions, and “people reading and teaching the Scrolls of the Law and the Prophet”.
Anna was familiar with what had long been prophesized. Believing ‘fully what Isaiah had spoken when he said, ‘See, a king will reign in righteousness’” (Isaiah 32:1). ‘A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse’” (Isaiah 11:1). She believed in what the prophet Micah had said, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).[ii]
But while Anna had unshakeable confidence the Messiah was coming, she could not have been certain about exactly when the prophecies would be fulfilled.
So she waited.
Watchful, with an expectant faith for 84 years.
Anna was now of “a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four” (Luke 2:36-37). She was holy and pious, a woman who was well known within the community as someone who devotedly fasted, prayed, and served within the temple.
She is also called a prophetess (Luke 2:36). This meant that Anna was “a religious intermediary whose function [was] to carry messages back and forth between human beings and a deity.”[iii] “It was understood that when prophets spoke they were transmitting God’s message to their audience.”[iv]
Thus, Anna was “a woman divinely inspired to make known God’s will to others”, communicating messages from God to his people that “revealed something with respect to the future” and that recalled them to righteousness.[v]
It is interesting that many scholars contend that that the gift of prophecy had ceased with the last of the Old Testament prophets and was only revived in the new age with the coming of the Messiah.[vi] Yet, this contention misses that for Anna to be identified as a prophetess when Jesus was brought into the temple, she would have had to been a prophet in the Old Testament period for at least some length of time.
Scripture also records that, “she never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37, NRSV).
But regardless of whether or not she actually lived in the temple it is clear that she was an enduring presence and witness to every activity and act of worship or sacrifice that was performed in the temple.
This means that she would have witnessed the temple’s dark side – the legalistic Pharisees, buyers and sellers, money changers, and the evident displays of disrespect and sin. However, amidst this cacophony of noise and distractions Anna remained faithful and observant.
Anna would have certainly heard about or possibly even had witnessed the narrative of the priest Zechariah. How the priest took a long time coming out the inner sanctuary of God. Noting that the people had to wait for him, and wondered about his delay in the sanctuary. Hearing how “when he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized he had seen a vision in the sanctuary” (Luke 1:21-22). And later when Zechariah’s son John was born, and his speech had been returned to him, “all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them…” (Luke 1:65-66).
She would have heard of Zechariah’s prophecy about his son John where he declared that John “will be called the prophet of the Most High; for [he] will go before the Lord to prepare his ways. To give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77).
She most likely heard about the shepherds and what they had witnessed, because after they had seen the child lying in the manger, “they made know what had been told them about this child; and all who heard were amazed at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 2:17-18).
Because Anna was alert she would have likely recognized these as signs.
So when Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus arrived at the temple she was prepared. And she immediately knew.
“That her own eyes beheld the Messiah she had longed to see.”[ix]
She “possessed divine insight into things normally hidden from ordinary people, and hence was able to recognize who the child in the temple was and then to proclaim his significance to those who were interested.”[x]
And “At that moment she came, and began to praise God, and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
Anna fervently spread the good news. Declaring that the prophecies had been fulfilled. The hopes and prayers of the faithful had been answered. Heralding to all that would listen, the Redeemer had come!
Anna’s narrative stretches across thousands of years to send us a message about expectant faith.
Now that it is our turn to wait.
For even as we celebrate Jesus’ birth this Advent season we are also waiting for his return.
Do we trust the prophecies that Christ is coming back? (John 14:2-3; Matthew 24:3, 30-44; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 5:1-8; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Revelations 1:7-8, 19:11-21, 22:7, 12).
Are we as prayerful? Possessing a similar unshakeable confidence and hope?
Absolutely trusting that Christ “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly awaiting for him” (Hebrew 9:28).
Living faithful lives “while we wait for the blessed hope”? (Titus 2:13)
With expectant faith.
 Edith Deen. All the Women of the Bible. Castle Books, 1990, 174.
[ii] Ibid, 174.
[iii] David Noel Freedman. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000, 1086.
[iv] Ibid, 1086.
[v]Rev, Alfred Plumer. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke. T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1922, 71. Herbert Lockyer. Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1986, 880. Bible Dictionary and Concordance. Castle Books, 2009, 348.
[vi] J.D. Douglas. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. Zondervan Corporation, Michigan, 1974,806. J.D Douglas. New International Bible Dictionary. Zondervan. Michigan, 1987, 826.
[vii] I. Howard Marshall. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Commentary on Luke. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1978, 124. Plumer, 72. Dorothy Kelley Patterson. The Woman’s Study Bible. Thomas Nelson, 2006, 1302.
[viii] Deen, 173. And Joseph A. Fitzmyer. The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX), Introduction, Translation and Notes. Doubleday, New York, 1981, 431.
[ix] Ann Spangler and Jean E. Syswerda. Women of the Bible. Zondervan. Grand Rapids Michigan, 2007, 301.
[x] Ibid, 123.
Photo Credits: St. Anna the Prophet, byRembrandt Van Rijn.