The Women of Christmas: Joy of Every Longing Heart

The Women of Christmas Bible Study Blog | Liz Curtis Higgs

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.

The Potter's Hands

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.

Women Praying at the Western Wall of the Temple

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.)

Anna the Prophetess Appears

“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.

Looking Forward

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!”

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!

Your 50 Favorite Proverbs | 2014 | Liz Curtis Higgs

31 Responses to The Women of Christmas: Joy of Every Longing Heart

  1. Ginny December 31, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Looking forward! I can honestly say I have not been looking forward. Forgive me Lord and thank you for using your servant Liz in opening my eyes!

  2. Lawan Rivera December 31, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    I guess in all the times I’ve read this I never thought about Anna telling everyone about Jesus! That’s what popped out for me and reminded me to keep telling everyone about Jesus.

    I’m with you on the fasting thing. My sister fasts often and regularly. I almost never do. I think fasting and more intimate, worshipful prayer is on the calendar for me in 2014! Excited to see what God has for me this year!

    Happy New Year and thank you for this study. Loved it. Looking forward to Proverbs!

  3. Esther December 31, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    Thank you so much for the words you shared over the Christmas period. New Year’s Day today in Australia and I begin the year with your challenge ringing in my ears … Tell everyone we know everything we know about Jesus … Say words such as miracle and angel because they are true! This year I am seeking by Gods grace and through his enabling to lift the candle high with a will that does not weary. Bless you Liz and a happy new year!

  4. Lane Hill House January 1, 2014 at 12:06 am #

    Gazing beyond to… grace! To watch for His Presence and listen to His still small voice ~*in the moment*~ exactly where we are, to hear Him speak and to tell His Word given

    Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House
    Happy Newness of Life in 2014

  5. Susan Gruener January 1, 2014 at 12:51 am #

    Happy New Year Liz! May 2014 be the ‘sweetest’ year yet for you and your family!
    This was such a good story and book, and I am sad the book has come to an end…
    I loved what you said in the end, that we must all follow in their (these three women’s) footsteps. We must keep the ‘light’ bright for all those around us to see His light. Such a great word to start a new year on.
    May He continue to bless you abundantly!

  6. Glynnis Jeffries January 1, 2014 at 1:05 am #

    What popped out for me was Anna dedication and devotion to The Lord by serving him day and night. The challenge for me is to not give The Lord crumbs as I have been doing, but to give him all of my heart and soul…and to put Him first in all that I do. That is the desire of my know and glorify Jesus who has done so much for me. Thanks Liz for this timely message

  7. Marie Krum January 1, 2014 at 2:22 am #

    Thank you for the blessing of this blog many of which I’ve used for personal Bible study. In this last one for “Anna”, I had a question: what was her family name? Also I had two insights. “Show me what it means to praise rather than complain, to be grateful rather than disgruntled.” It was “disgruntled” that got me. I so enjoy praising the Lord but as a “physically challenged” human being, boy! can I get disgruntled. This, that or the other thing isn’t right and there’s nothing I can do about it but wait. Wait. Anna waited. Did she ever get disgruntled? I wonder. I also got the verse for next year’s Christmas card – I wouldn’t mind seeing Christ returns first. “But, (Away in the manger – but) he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on Him and by His wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53: 5. “Happy New Year, Liz!” “For I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last He will stand on the earth.” Job 19:25. Lovingly in the Lord, Marie Krum

    • Liz Curtis Higgs January 1, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

      Marie, you asked about Anna’s family. Luke 2:36 tells us, “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher.” We have no evidence of Anna being “disgruntled.” Worshiping God “night and day” would definitely do away with whining!

  8. Nancy January 1, 2014 at 5:35 am #

    Thank You, Liz for bringing to me a new perspective for this new year. I always thought when I got to the scene with Anna in the Temple that I would like to be like her-her whole focus on God-both body and soul continually. What conversations she must have had with the Lord after seeing the Babe and looking into His eyes!! We all have that same opportunity-what Grace!

  9. Tracy January 1, 2014 at 6:19 am #

    Happy New Year 2014 Liz! May God bless you in abundance this New Year.

    I believe for me in reading this blog and also reading the book, I am amazed at these women. I long to be used as a woman of God for God’s glory but know that I fall short so many times because of being a “man-pleaser or just pure laziness.” I’m seeking so much more for the year 2014, I want to be used more, I want to be broken more for God’s glory. I believe when you look at Anna, you saw God. You saw her devotion and most of all you saw her heart. So many times we can perform the devotion to God but if people really saw our hearts, that’s a whole different story. But I believe for Anna, her heart is what was glorious to look at. Her heart was filled in abundance of love and devotion to her Heavenly Father; what an amazing woman Anna was.

    I long to remove the clutter from my life and walk in these kind of footsteps or to be the footsteps of a woman like Anna.

    Thank you so much for all you have done in 2013 and your devotion in giving God all the glory for His bountiful blessings and talents in your life.

    Love to you in this New Year 2014

  10. Marge January 1, 2014 at 7:33 am #

    May you and your family be blessed with good health, joy and happiness in this new year.

    I must lay aside my desires and seek God’s will. Be ready to hear and know His voice . My hearts desire is to pray for others, to hold up their arms when they become weary or discouaged. Anna was that woman, she waited on the Lord, heard from the Lord and shared His word. My prayer, Lord help me become the woman YOU want me to be.

    Thank you Liz for your using your gifts and talents for the glory of Jesus.

  11. Linda H January 1, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    “Open mouth, Praise God” I want to post that on a sign to remember in all things Praise and Worship with my whole heart. When I am doing those things I can’t whine and complain. I desire to know the Lord more intimately this next year, to be emptied of myself and filled to overflowing with Him!! I want to share with others His miracles by being bolder in my witness. I am going to begin with my kids and grandchildren whose lives have been fractured and I see them slowly walking away from the Lord. These stories give me hope and an example for the woman I want to become. Liz, thank you for the hard work this past year! You have brought light to my life and have been blessed to read your words and hear you speak in person! Have a blessed New Year!!

    • Kim S January 1, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

      Linda, that first sentence got me! Usually it’s “open mouth, insert foot” for me, but I love the idea of opening my mouth and praising God. Going to post this on my desk at work as a daily reminder. Thanks!

  12. Phyllis January 1, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    I believe I need to just be quiet in his presence much more. Anna lived before the Lord, always in his presence I don’t have to be always reading the word, or praying. Sometimes I just need to be still and think about a blessing it is to spend time just with him.

  13. Becky Stepp January 1, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    Thank you for this Bible Study Liz! May 2014 be filled with blessings for you and your family! May The Lord use you to glorify Him in the year to come.

  14. Elizabeth Hoagland January 1, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    Liz! Bravo on the blog on the WOC, so perfectly timed & needed during Christmas. You were my only spiritual boost amidst the hoopla…I claim Anna as my favorite. She encourages us all to press on & as you suggest, with more determination to pray, worship, be still and rest in Him. A great way to begin 2014, rushing expert that I am…sigh. Our friend Naomi reminds me of Anna. “Soldiering” for Him, “young in hope” , devoted til the end. Amen & huge hugs to you across town! Happy New Year! Love, Elizabeth

  15. Janey January 1, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    Thank you Liz, for the reminder of what’s important in this rush-filled life we live! Thank the Lord my life is going to slow down a bit in 2014! I’m looking forward to days of saturation in His Word, and time to show the love of Christ to others! I appreciate all your hard work, to help draw is closer to our Savior!!! Happy New Year- with loads of love your way! JANEY

  16. Carol Weeks January 1, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    I’m a writer/speaker and scared to death of failure and success. God is asking me to stick close to Him so that I can move forward to do great things in his name. I’m making the song Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus my rallying cry!

  17. Sheila January 1, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    I am in awe of Anna’s devotion to Christ. First, I have to admit I did not know who she was. But she was obviously a Woman of God. Who of us could devote our lives in such a manner? I love how you ( or God?) blended the story together for this special time of year. God has chosen you as a vessel through whom His story can be told. Your words are are a gift. I am still trying to wrap my mind around Anna ‘s life of devotion. Thank you and looking forward to our next project, studying Proverbs.

  18. Linda January 1, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    Having just started re-reading One Thousand Gifts…..this really jumped off the page :
    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.

    This is my prayer for this new year….thank you for pointing me back to where I have to start and remain … thankfulness and praise….
    Thank you for this blog which. I only recently discovered……look forward to discovering more truths with you from Proverbs:)

  19. Pat January 1, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    My challenge is Romans 12: 1-2. God is calling me to be transformed by the renewal of my mind in Christ-likeness. This is my 2014 verse. To be the living sacrifice for his glory!

  20. Chris January 1, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    I found Anna amazing in her obedience and submissiveness to the Holy Sprit and knowing who Jesus was when she saw him for the first time.
    The way that God’s history met in these
    women’s lives at those specific times speaks to God’s power and control over our lives. It shows in how he meets our needs even when we see it as difficulty, failure, pain or loss. God is love and in charge no matter what!

  21. CarolAnne January 1, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    I love alliterative names and this is the first time I put together “Anna Asher”. Also, …to tell everyone we know about Jesus & say miracle and angel w/out apology…*sigh*…I often say “thank heaven” and remind people of their Guardian Angel, but must make an effort this year to also speak of Jesus! Thank you, Liz, for your teachings. You help me so much : )

  22. luann January 1, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

    thanks for the insight Liz

  23. Lori January 2, 2014 at 6:26 am #

    LOVED this study Liz! For the first time in a long time, I was focused on Christ at Christmas!! Imagine that!! Oh how we have lost the focus!!! I was struck by Anna’s devotion and commitment to worship. I wonder how long I might stay in the temple gates and wait for someone, something, that appears as if will never come??? This study has awakened a desire in me to be focused, committed, and devoted to Jesus. How much more was/is He these things for me?? After all, He waits tirelessly and endlessly for me to come. Thank you so much Liz for your devotion and commitment to tell others about the Christ Child, not just at Christmas, but all year through. God Bless!!!

  24. Taricia January 2, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    Thank you Liz for your diligence and obedience to God in bringing these fresh words to us. I too am praying that God help me praise instead of complaining. I have been guilty of allowing my circumstances to dictate my relationship with God. Thank you for helping me see past myself to see how great God has been even in the midst of those circumstances!

  25. Becky (Rebecca) Frith January 2, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    Glory to God in the highest! Looking back on the year and all of God’s blessings upon us after the tornado struck, and finding so much to Praise God for the people who helped us, the love of God that allowed us to move to TN and start over better than before is so mind blowing. Anna knew the Best was coming after all her years of service to God. Why can’t we get into the habit of looking forward to the best? That is what I will try to do in this new year, look forward to recognize and share His Grace! Love to all!

  26. Deborah W January 3, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Dear Liz, LOVE this look into ‘Anna’. I named my second daughter after her, ” Anna served the Lord w prayer and fasting.’ This child named for her has lived a life from the Anna in the Bible.. but my love for her never wavers. I know for who she was named.. right now she lives w a man she is not yet married to and God has blessed them w w Beautiful baby boy!! I know that God is not done w her yet.. thank-you for this amplified look into Anna love the Painting by Rembrandt. Love you Liz and your profound use of the ‘Word’…

  27. Julie Sunne January 3, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    I can easily see myself complaining God took so long to provide the Christ-child instead of praising Him for His faithfulness, goodness, mercy, grace. Why is that me? Oh, Lord, guard my heart and mind–keep them stayed on You, to worship and praise You–in all circumstances, throughout my days.
    Thank you, Liz, for more enrichment, insight, and conviction.

  28. Rebecca Mahannah January 3, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    Thank you Liz, for this Christmas study and chance to come closer to God and the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts here on Liz’s blog,I truly enjoyed reading them. May 2014 be a healthy year both physically and spiritually for you all.