There it is, plain as the words on the page: Anna the prophetess “worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37). Already I’m shaking my head. No way. No way could I do that. I convince myself she’s one of those Super Saints, made out of something different than the rest of us.
Then God bends down and silences my foolish thinking. Anna did not do those good deeds on her own. I am the One who did them through Anna.
I know this is true, and his Word confirms it: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
Now I understand: God’s hands rested on Anna’s hands. He guided her, strengthened her, empowered her.
His hands rest on ours as well, beloved. When we ease our breathless pace, when we stop, look, and listen, we can sense the gentle weight of his touch, and take comfort in the warmth of his presence.
In this season, in every season, Immanuel: God with us.
Chapter Eight: Joy of Every Longing Heart
Read Luke 2:36–40
God placed Anna right where she belonged, both for his holy purpose and for her earthly joy: in the temple in Jerusalem.
Women of every age still gather outside the remaining western wall, especially Friday evenings at the start of Shabbat. They meet on the women’s side—on the right, as you face the wall. Many slip handwritten prayers into crevices and brush their fingertips across the crumbling surface. Some bow their heads, some lift their hands. Some weep.
Did Elizabeth touch the temple wall in passing? Did young Mary, when she came for her ritual purification that day? Did Anna, who made her home within those walls? To be sure, these women were real—as real as the ancient stones themselves.
This we know from Scripture: Mary hastened to Elizabeth’s side, then Anna hurried to stand by Mary, all three of them drawn to the Christ child.
Elizabeth anticipated his coming.
Mary welcomed his arrival.
Anna announced his presence.
For many of us, Anna was a surprise, the unexpected exclamation point at the end of the nativity story. Her name means “grace,” her family name means “face of God,” and her devotion was deep and wide.
Yes, she was eighty-four years old, but you’d never know it to watch her in action. Nearly four centuries ago, Rembrandt perfectly captured Anna’s enthusiasm. (I hope I did her justice on her golden Pinterest board too.)
“Coming up to them at that very moment…” (Luke 2:38). At the Holy Spirit’s prompting, Anna made a beeline for the babe in Simeon’s arms. We can feel her urgency, her excitement, her conviction.
When she opened her mouth, you know what poured out: “she gave thanks to God” (Luke 2:38).
Lord, don’t let me miss this. Open my eyes and ears and heart. Show me what it means to praise rather than complain, to be grateful rather than disgruntled.
After decades of worshiping and fasting and praying, Anna was prepared when she encountered the Savior. She was filled up, ready to spill out.
Instead of hobnobbing with the main players, making idle chitchat, Anna turned to everyone else in the temple courts that day, and “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
Looking forward. It’s the perfect thing to do at story’s end.
Anna gazed beyond his birth, beyond his life, beyond his death, and straight through to his resurrection.
The people of God longed to be redeemed, but that was only possible through sacrifice. The stark reminder of that truth hung in the temple air—the spilling of blood, the bleating of lambs, the burning of flesh on the altar.
Did Anna know how much that innocent child would suffer to set his people free? You can be sure of it. She was a prophetess, which meant she not only heard from the Lord; she also knew what the ancient prophets foretold.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
Pierced, crushed, punished, wounded. Centuries before Christ walked the Way of Suffering, the prophet Isaiah assured God’s people, “A healer is coming.”
He has come, dear one. He is here.
Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna were prepared, and so they prepared the way. As I wrote in the final lines of The Women of Christmas, now it falls to us, two thousand years later, to follow in their footsteps.
To tell everyone we know everything we know about Jesus. To say words such as miracle and angel without apology, because they’re true. To see the light of Christ shining through the ages and lift our candles to light the way for others.
To join the heavenly host singing “Glory, glory, glory! Glory to God in the highest!”
From the Study Guide
Though Psalm 23:6 was written by David, his words could easily have been spoken by Anna: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Which aspect of Anna’s worship challenges you to go deeper?
The truth? Every aspect of her worship convicts me. God deserves more than a few crumbs that fall from my too-full calendar. He deserves my best. He deserves a heart of worship, night and day.
In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence wrote, “Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God.” Right. That.
Prayer is part of my ongoing conversation with the Lord, with bursts of heartfelt petitions. Knowing God listens, cares, and answers according to his will is enough to keep me talking, though I fear I’ve become too casual. A daily reading from Psalms should help realign my grasp of his majesty and holiness.
Fasting? Well. I fasted for the first time in ages today while I wrote this post. In part I wanted to honor Anna. Mostly I wanted to remind myself what it’s like to feel empty, to look at the last of the Christmas cookies and resist the urge to grab one. It was harder than I’d remembered. And it was more rewarding than I’d imagined. I think Anna was on to something.
Now it’s your turn
Two questions I hope you’ll consider:
- Was there something in Chapter Eight that popped off the page for you?
- In what ways might God be asking you to dwell more closely with him in the year ahead?
Please respond under Post a Comment below. It means so much to all of us when you take time to share your thoughts.
Opening God’s Word with you has truly made this season merry and bright. The Women of Christmas blog series will live on my website for many seasons to come, along with the free Leader’s Guide, How to Use The Women of Christmas as a Bible Study.
Look below to see what I have planned beginning January 8th. I think you’ll find our weekly visits a bit shorter and more manageable, plus each post will stand alone and won’t be tied to a book or to a season. You can read them anytime that suits.
Until then, may the peace of Christ be yours in the new year and always!
Your sister, Liz
P.S. All through 2014 we’ll explore the beauty of Proverbs.
Can’t wait to share this all-new study with you!