Anna: A Joyous Chapter of the Christmas Story

Posted on December 22, 2020

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By David Ettinger

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).

Though she occupies but, in essence, a paragraph in the Bible, there is enough written about Anna to inform us that she was truly a remarkable woman. Her dedication and faithfulness to God were extraordinary, and she has stood for two millennia as the model of prayerful diligence for millions of Christians.

So, who exactly was Anna?

For one thing, she was the daughter of Penuel of the tribe of Asher. We know nothing about Penuel and very little about the tribe of Asher, which gets little mention in Scripture. However, these two details are significant in the sense that it teaches us a lesson: It doesn’t matter whether you are from a hamlet or metropolis, or were raised in a hovel or a castle, if your heart is fully devoted to the Lord, He will use you in a mighty way. Indeed Anna was used in such a way.

In those days, young Jewish women were often betrothed by age 12 or 13 and married a year later. So, a possible scenario of Anna’s life could look something like this: betrothed at age 13, married at 14, widowed 7 years later at age 21, and living at least another 63 years as a widow. Some versions of the text indicate that Anna was widowed for 84 years following the death of her husband, but that would put her past age 100. It is more likely she was 84 years old at the time we meet her.

Luke also tells us that Anna was a prophetess. This is not to say that she had special revelation, but, more likely, that she was a teacher, or proclaimer, of the Old Testament. Perhaps she taught young women the Word of God.

However, the most remarkable aspect of Anna’s life is that, “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37). It appears that rather than remarry, Anna, still a very young woman, chose to dedicate her life to God. The phrase “never left the temple” can be taken literally. Because of the many decades Anna spent worshiping in the Temple, she became a familiar fixture among the religious leaders.

As she aged, making the trip from her home (wherever that was) to the Temple, would have become a hardship for her. Impressed – and possibly even humbled – by her unfathomable dedication, perhaps some influential religious leaders offered this dear woman a small room in the Temple complex. She may have been given one of the priest’s living quarters in the outer court.

temple

One thing we know for certain: Anna was an exceptional woman of devotion, and God chose to reward her. One day while in the Temple courts, she came upon a couple with a young child. With them was an older gentleman named Simeon, who “was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him” (Luke 2:25). No doubt Anna knew who Simeon was and we can well imagine that they shared several interesting conversations throughout the years. Simeon’s zeal and piety would have matched Anna’s, so it is no coincidence that the Lord brought them together at this precise time.

When Simeon, through the Holy Spirit, announced that, “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations” (Luke 2:30-31), Anna no doubt heard it. We can assume this because Luke’s account says of Anna, “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God” (Luke 2:38, italic added). Anna had indeed heard Simeon’s proclamation of the Child’s messiahship and then stepped closer to gaze upon Him for herself.

We can only imagine the wave of emotion that coursed through her as she beheld the Christ Child, and the incredible gratitude with which she thanked God. But she didn’t stop there. After beholding Him, Anna, “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

By doing so, Anna became the world’s first missionary. It’s true that the shepherds saw Christ first on the night of His birth and proclaimed His birth to others (Luke 2:15), but it is doubtful they comprehended the magnitude of this Child as did Anna.

It was a privilege for her to proclaim the arrival of the Messiah, Anna’s well-earned reward for an outstanding life of prayer, worship, and devotion to God!