Lady in Waiting
By ROSS STRADER
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2:36–38 (ESV)
As the date gets closer, the excitement builds.
We put up the tree. The lights are on the house. The packages slowly emerge under the tree. Christmas music plays. The movies are watched. The books are read. We totally immerse ourselves in the coming of Christmas. We “long for” its arrival if you will. It’s like we begin to see everything around us with “Christmas eyes.”
The birth of Jesus was the long-awaited fulfillment of the promises that God had made throughout the history of His people. He created for them a longing and an expectation that was meant to inspire in them a hope for the future, an urgency for the present, and a perspective of the past.
That’s why Luke gives us the gift of Anna. She is the most obscure character in all the narrative around Jesus’ birth. In the long chapters of Luke’s gospel, she occupies the real estate of three verses in the middle of chapter two. It is likely you have read over those verses and missed her altogether. But Luke wants us to catch a glimpse of the birth of Jesus through her “Christmas eyes.”
She is an old woman – probably 105 years old – and has been a widow for 85 years. We are told she is a prophetess, a role that had faded in Israel as the years went by. When God does not grant revelation for 400 years, the message of the prophets can tend to feel stale to the people around. “Yeah, yeah… we’ve heard all of this before!”
She is not famous. She is not significant. She is not wealthy. She is not even profound. Luke does not record a single word she ever uttered.
But she is remembered. Luke was a historian. He interviewed eyewitnesses. He spent time with Mary and the disciples. He studied everything there was about Jesus. And somewhere in all that, the name Anna kept coming up.
Maybe it was Mary that recounted, “I remember the year Jesus was born. We took him to the Temple as the law instructed. There was this widowed woman, old and thin. She was there serving the temple. I’ll never forget when her eyes met Jesus. Such joy and compassion filled her soul. She knew him. He was only a month old, but she had been looking for him all her life.”
The emperor was looking for more taxes. The religious leaders were looking for more favor. Young men were looking for wives. Young women were hoping for children. Worshippers were looking for mercy from God. But Anna was looking for Jesus. And she had found him.
For more than 80 years she came daily to the temple, praying and worshipping. She skipped lunch and dinner, sometimes for days or weeks. She longed and waited and hoped. And then one day, an unsuspecting couple shows up at the temple for the routine purification… and her eyes see this child.
Could it be God was not silent any longer? His voice was loud and clear in the cooing of the child held tightly to his mother’s breast. God was with them. God was here. She beheld him. At long last, He had returned.
Luke wants us to know Anna. He wants us to see her. She has a joy and amazement that was greater than those around her because what she longed for was greater! She never settled for the lesser things. She had “Christmas eyes” and her excitement overflowed to all around her.
This is a good reminder for those who follow Christ. We want to cultivate a longing for greater joy. It may be that you find yourself caught up in the spirit of Christmas but uncommitted in your heart to the person whose birth we celebrate. As believers, we not only celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we also want to expectantly long for His return.
Jesus’ return will eclipse the joy and excitement of any Christmas morning we’ve ever experienced, a million times a million. And Christians today long for a Christmas to come that will last forever!
Ross Strader has been senior pastor of Bethel Bible Church, a five-campus congregation in Tyler, since 2006. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Hardin-Simmons University in 1993 and a master’s degree in 1995. In 2003, he earned a master of theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Leslie, have three children.