Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; 37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years,[i] who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord,[j] and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Life is not guaranteed to be easy for even the most devoted follower of Jesus. No matter how much faith we have our life may be visited by great suffering. We may experience painful loss. Jesus Himself tells us that we will be hated and in this life there will be trials and tribulations.
Sorry prosperity gospel teachers Jesus disagrees with you, there will be suffering says Jesus, but He also tells us the good news. We should take heart, He has already won the victory and overcome the world. Our pain, though great, will be more than worth it when we share in that victory.
I just love the example the Lord gives us on this issue in Luke 2 with a woman who shows up for all of three verses and disappears. Her name is Anna and she is wonderful. She can teach us so much if we are willing to pay attention to what the Lord is saying through mentioning her.
Anna’s life is not set out in great detail, but what we see about her sets out two main themes – loss and faithfulness. If you are familiar with the passage in Luke 2 it takes place when Jesus is brought to the temple by Mary and Joseph for the first time as a baby. A man Simeon prophecies over Jesus, a great moment in itself and then the account switches over to the brief mention of Anna.
The Bible says that Anna is of great age and has been a widow for many years. It appears that she was married to her husband for 7 years and then her great loss took place when her husband died. Seven years is not a long time when compared with the 84 years that follow while Anna is a widow but it is long enough for her to go from young eager to live life newly married girl to grieving widow.
Losing a spouse now is a terrible thing, of course, but having your husband die back then would have been a whole different level of pain. Women did not have jobs that they could work at in order to support themselves in widowhood and there was no government safety net to catch them when such loss took place. It is the reason why the Widow of Nain losing her husband and son was such a big deal. Seven years difference also would have placed her outside the usual marriage age, her prospects of getting remarried would have been slim and as evidenced by the passage she never did. Losing your husband was huge loss for Anna in every aspect of her life.
This left her with very few material options. There were, however, many spiritual paths for Anna to take at this point after losing her husband.
If you recall Naomi from the Book of Ruth when she her husband and two sons died she told people to call her Mara, the word for bitterness, so that is one option. Despair, depression and anger are more possibilities. Since Anna was human she probably struggled with all of theses feelings like any other person who goes through a tragedy. Some days shortly after her loss probably felt like slow motion walking through jello or walking through a constant fog as my brothers and sisters who have lost loved ones describe it. Sorrow and mourning are the same now as they were 2000 years ago.
At some point, though, Anna made a choice in how she would deal with her loss and pain. She made a choice about how she would deal with her solitude. She was alone and unattached in a world where no one was alone and unattached. Naomi chose bitterness, Anna chose faithfulness. She chose God. Look at verse 37 again:
and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years,[i] who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
Do we see what the verse says? She did not depart from the temple and served God night and day. We don’t know whether this was her practice for all of the past 84 years, but it seems that she was a long time fixture at the temple.
She was not a priest or a pastor or a professional minister, just a simple widow who when faced with pain and struggle chose to give her everything to God – day and night. Serving God became her whole life. She replaced a life with her husband and God with a life with just God.
When faced with the decision whether to become bitterness like Naomi or be washed away with despair or alcohol or drugs like we so often do today she chose to serve God. Loss and solitude were turned on their head and became opportunity for joy in the Lord, and what an amazing opportunity.
Because she turns to God in her pain and loss and is faithful, Anna is there when Jesus is first proclaimed in the Temple. The long-awaited Jewish Messiah is hailed for the very first time in the Temple in Jerusalem, God’s Holy City and Anna is chosen to be there. Can you imagine being there? What would we give to be with her and see baby Jesus proclaimed by Simeon? Would we be willing to give up our plan for the next 84 years in favor of God’s?
Anna experiences the arrival of the Messiah in person. She could have been sitting in her house being consumed by her life not going according to her plan.
Because she turns to God and is faithful, Anna is also one of the first people on earth to go out and testify to others about the arrival of the Savior. Again, can you just even imagine?
How would you like to be one of the first people in all of history to go out and tell the world that the Messiah has come? Anna gets to do this. She is out proclaiming Jesus before any of the big guns of Christendom – Peter, James and John are still babes or not yet born while Anna is telling everyone who was looking for redemption in Jerusalem about Jesus.
What would you give to be there and be one of the very first to tell the world looking for redemption about Jesus? Would you be willing to forsake marriage or having kids?
How awesome is God’s blessing on Anna? She is faithful so she is rewarded. Such is life with God.
It is really worth noting the time that Anna lived in as well. Her 84 years were not great and glorious ones for the nation of Israel. In her lifetime, Israel was conquered and fell under the harsh rule of the Roman Empire. Judging by the descriptions in the Bible, the religious and civil leaders of the Nation were scoundrels more interested in making money than following God. The Nation was divided and lost, like sheep without a shepherd.
Anna was surrounded her entire life mainly by the corrupt and the unfaithful and ruled by a wicked and bloodthirsty empire.
What does the Bible note about her life during these times? That she was faithful, that she served the Lord night and day and that she did not depart from His Temple. Paraphrasing Joshua, no matter what anyone was doing around her, as for her and her house, she served the Lord.
This life we live can be really hard at times. We struggle, we lose and win and sometimes things happen that can feel like the world as we know it is being taken away from us. We lose people we love dearly.
When faced with such a loss, we have an opportunity to remember Anna and many thousands of other simple believers likes her and keep on walking in faithfulness no matter what is going on around us or how long it takes. They are our great cloud of witnesses testifying that it is not only possible, but worth it.
Keep on following the Lord no matter what anyone else is doing and no matter the opposition and like Anna you will see Jesus.