There is not much that we know about Jesus’ childhood after His birth in Bethlehem. But of the few short vignettes that we do have, some significant details add to our understanding of His mission and purpose. Luke 2:32-38 is one of those passages and while we could feature the more prominent role of Simeon and his proclamation over the Christ-child, this week we’ll look more closely at Anna the prophetess whom Luke records came “at that very moment” when Simeon made his stunning announcement. Anna is not the only woman in Scripture who bore the title of prophetess (Ex. 15:20-21; Jud. 4:4; 2 Ki. 22:14-16; Neh. 6:14; Ac. 21:8-9). All prophets are given the task of speaking forth the word of God (unlike our modern and somewhat incorrect perception that prophecy is telling what will happen in the future). As demonstrated in the preceding passages these women brought messages of victory, judgment, and comfort like their male counterparts. It is not surprising then that Anna would respond to things Simeon had to say.
Scripture is never flat or bland. It is rich with detail and meaning and this passage could appear to be a simple story about the day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple for dedication, a closer look at some of the details mentioned proves it’s more than that. Anna’s name and heritage is a case in point. Why mention these details at all? It is Simeon’s words that are recorded and all we know is that she reacted to them. It is first noted that Anna is from the tribe of Asher. The tribe of Asher occupied a northern territory in Israel so it is unusual that she has remained in Jerusalem rather than returning to her relatives. Asher means “fortunate” (we might say blessed). Scripture does not say much about this tribe but two passages are significant: Gen. 49:20 and Dt. 33:24-25. Both passages tell us that the tribe of Asher would receive blessings from God. The second detail of note is the meaning of Anna’s name.
Anna is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Hannah which means “grace”. Anna also is noted as being the daughter of Phanuel which means “the appearance or the face of God”. She bears some similarities to another well-known Hannah (1 Sam. 1) through prayer, fasting and her devotion to the Lord. Simeon’s name is based on the verb “to hear”. Thus putting all these meanings together one can see/read a great message: By God’s good fortune and grace, Anna both hears of God’s salvation and sees the face or appearance of God in the flesh- that is Jesus the Messiah, God’s redemption of Israel.
Luke’s emphatic statement that Anna came along “at that very moment” is also important. Luke is underscoring the idea that God had orchestrated the events so that Anna was there at THAT time. In other words, this was no coincidence; she was meant to hear Simeon’s message. Luke makes note of Anna’s age and the length of her widowhood. Simply put, Anna had been coming to the Temple for a LONG time! In our fast-food, instant gratification, buy on credit so you can get it now world, the length of time Anna has been serving God is as close to eternity as one can get. But Anna’s life and testimony has some wonderful principles to teach us if we’re willing to accept them. First, we often attribute things which happen in our lives to coincidence. But many times they are put there by God and we do not recognize He is at work in us (Phil. 2:12-13). Secondly, sometimes waiting can seem to take a lifetime, but God always fulfills His promises. If we must wait, we wait with the assurance that in His time God will do something (Rom. 8:28; Gal. 4:4). And lastly, when we see God at work it is our job to tell others what we have seen (1 Jn. 1:1-5). This is particularly true of our salvation! As we head into 2018 let’s apply the example of Anna to the way we live this year each and every day. Let’s keep our ears and eyes attuned to what the Lord is doing and then tell everyone about what we have seen and heard for it is what Jesus has commanded us to do (Mt. 28:18-20).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 12/31/2017