Someone once remarked that growing old isn’t a battle but a massacre.
Sadly, in most cases this is all too true. If we live long enough, we are forced to grieve a lone, painful series of losses. As we age, we say farewell-usually to our careers, often to our health, sometimes to our memories, always to the independent lives we once knew. And the older we get, the more often we will have to stand in funeral homes and cemeteries and say goodbye to beloved family members and dear friends.
From what we learn from the quick Bible cameo Anna makes in the Gospel of Luke, it’s safe to confidently assume that the “daughter of Phanuel, of the tribes of Asher” faced her share of such goodbyes.
Like a true gentleman, Luke refused to give Anna’s exact age, saying only that she was “well alone in years.” Like a great writer, however, Luke wanted us to grasp how remarkable this lady was. And so he added a couple of tidbits of revealing information: how, after seven years of marriage, Anna was widowed for eighty-four more years. Any third grader can do the math. Anna was a centenarian and the some.
Yet even though her marriage was cut short, she was alone for most of her life, and she was among the most senior of Israel’s senior citizen, nothing in Luke’s description gives the impression that Anna felt sorry for herself. She wasn’t a grumbler, and she certainly didn’t sit around killing time, waiting for the end. In just a few words, Luke painted the picture of an alerts, active, God-focused woman.
Anna was a prophetess. This means she received relations and messages directly from God. From Luke’s description (“she did not leave the temple complex”), it’s clear Anna embodied the ancient words of King David: “How happy is the one You choose and bring near to live in Your courts! We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, the holiness of Your temple” (Ps 65:4).
Though she must have lost some of her vitality over the years, Anna continued to serve God “night and day with fasting and prayers.” Can’t you see her if you close your eyes-this faithful, hunched-over fixture at the temple? This slow-moving, salt-of-the-earth prayer warrior? Every temple and every church-in every era-could use 1,000 women just like her.
On one particular day, Anna was doing what she did every day of her precious life: listening for the voice of God and using her own voice to plead with God. Suddenly she became aware of a commotion nearby. She couldn’t be sure, but it looked like Simeon, one of her older cohorts, talking excitedly with a young couple. He seemed to be cradling a baby in his arms and beaming as he looked up toward heaven.
Perhaps it was because Anna couldn’t hear what he was saying that she shuffled over to where he was. She arrived just in time to hear Simeon exclaim, “My eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:30). And then Anna saw it too: this child was the child. This was the promised One she’d been waiting and praying for all her life.
Luke mentioned that for a few moments Anna joined Simeon in his impromptu worship service, profusely thanking God. Then, this elderly, God-loving woman went into evangelist mode, speaking “about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
How long Anna lived after this day is a mystery, but if you were a betting person, wouldn’t you wager that whenever it was, she died with a smile on her face?
LUKE 2:36-38 – “There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and was a widow for 84 years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”