Reading this devotional and listen to this song, "Messiah (Anna's Song)," by Shane and Angela Wiebe
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 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 2:36-38, NRSV)
Unfortunately, our society is full of examples of devaluing women after they reach a certain age. What immediately comes to mind is when earlier this year CTV News anchor Lisa LaFlamme was fired, partly because her hair had turned grey. One of the first things we hear about Anna is that she is very old. We even get her specific age – 84 years – which is definitely noteworthy in a time before modern medicine.
The story of Anna is short – only one paragraph long – but besides her age we get a few more crucial details. Anna is constantly at the Temple worshipping God with fasting and prayer. Most of her life she has been a widow. As a widow, Anna is among the most vulnerable in a patriarchal society, where she does not have a man to provide for her. Anna could have followed other paths besides spending all her time in the Temple worshipping God. She could have become bitter about her husband’s death and turned away from God. She could have legitimately chosen to remarry since her husband died only seven years into their marriage, but for whatever reason, she chose to stay single. In many ways, Anna is living out the ideal for the single life that Paul later describes in 1 Corinthians: “a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit” (7:34, NLT). Anna dedicates her time, her energy, and herself to the Lord. So when Mary and Joseph show up to present the baby Jesus at the Temple according to the Jewish tradition, Anna is there ready to receive them and to tell everyone about the baby. Anna is also called a prophet, and she is not the only woman in the Bible to get that title. For example, in 2 Chronicles 34, when one of the priests find a scroll with the Book of the Law in the Temple, they go consult with the prophet Huldah and she gives them a message to give back to the King. Anna continues a long tradition of women who hear what God is doing and saying, then communicate that to others. Like Elizabeth and Mary, Anna understands what is happening far before many others recognize it.
Besides Anna the old widow, the early chapters of the Gospels are full of people on the margins meeting Jesus first, like poor shepherds and foreigner astrologers. God notices Anna’s commitment and invites her to be part of this special moment of Jesus’ dedication in the Temple. To the seniors in our churches, and especially the senior women: God notices your years of faithful service, even if nobody else does. It might be your regular routine to come and worship and serve at the church, but you never know which day the baby Messiah might show up and you will be in the right place at the right time. If stories like the teenage Mary and the child David show us you are never too young to be part of God’s plan, the stories of Elizabeth and Anna show us that you are never too old to be part of something new that God is doing. Whatever your age, your life stage, and your situation, you have a part to play. What does it look like for you to dedicate this stage of your life to God? How can you recognize the faithful years of service of those around you, especially if much of that service has been behind the scenes?
Rachel McNally is a Ph.D. Student in Political Science and ASBE Board Member