Getting to Know Anna
by Sharon Betters
Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
Psalm 68:4-5 ESV
Luke’s comments about Anna are packed with information, but brief and lacking on details of Anna’s personal life. Luke writes only the words that serve his purpose in telling the story of the birth of Jesus, so filling in some of the blanks requires personal speculation. First, let’s review what Luke does reveal about Anna.
This old lady pops into the birth narrative of our Savior and then disappears but Luke’s description of this powerful encounter paints a picture of an unusual and influential elderly woman.
Anna might be the least known of the six individual Israelites intimately connected to the miraculous birth of Jesus. I personally love that four of these witnesses to the supernatural identity of Jesus as Messiah are elderly. Old Zechariah and Elizabeth experience their own miracle in the birth of John. When Mary runs to Elizabeth’s home after hearing the angel’s announcement that Mary is pregnant, old Elizabeth, experiencing her own miracle pregnancy, reassures Mary that the child she is carrying is the Messiah. God lovingly encourages Mary and Joseph again with confirmation of the deity of their little baby boy at the time of the purification of baby Jesus. The Holy Spirit moved a righteous and devout priest, old Simeon, to go to the temple courts at just the right moment where he recognized Jesus as the one “promised” to bring salvation to God’s people. Simeon also warned the young mother Mary that a “sword would pierce her soul.” At that very moment, eighty-four year old Anna steps up and gives thanks to God for this baby. Not only that, she “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” Don’t miss this priceless treasure to Mary and Joseph. Both Simeon and Anna arrive at the purification independent of one another. Luke lets us know this is not a coincidence when he describes how they show up at just the right moments. Their habits of prayer sensitized them to the nudges of the Holy Spirit who moved them to go to the exact spot where Mary and Joseph stood with baby Jesus.
Before Luke tells us Anna’s name he calls her a prophetess, giving even more credibility to Anna’s response to Jesus. Luke does not identify her with her husband’s name, but rather her father’s, Phanuel. Anna is one of the few New Testament figures identified by her tribe: Asher. Perhaps Luke’s inclusion of these lineage details impressed his intended audience with the reliability of Anna’s response to the birth of Jesus. God gave insight to a prophetess, insight normally hidden from ordinary people. Do you know someone like Anna?
I often wondered if one of my friends was a prophetess because of how her intimacy with Jesus seemed to give her insights that always came to pass. If my friend cautioned me about a choice, attitude, or a relationship, I carefully considered her words. She reminded me of Anna. Anna clearly experienced intimacy with God that opened her heart to treasures others could not see.
And oh, let me remind you: Luke wants us to know she is ancient! Some think she was 105 at this encounter, others think she was 84. What we can agree on is that Luke makes it clear: this is an old, old woman!
This is where Anna’s response to the death of her husband schools us. I often tell younger women that if they want to be a sweet, old lady that everyone enjoys, they need to start when they are younger. Don’t think that sweet little old ladies naturally turned into those gems when they reached a ripe old age. A lifetime of falling in love with Jesus and making hard choices when life turned upside down creates an auto response to the challenges of growing old. I have concluded that if you don’t choose the disciplines of grace when you are younger, you probably won’t have the energy to care when you are older. Bitterness looks bad on anyone, but bitterness in an old person produces an ugly countenance and character that repels friends and family. Let us learn from Anna how to choose joy and service over bitterness when life falls in on us. She gives us a perfect example of a woman whose spiritual default mode kicked in when life fell apart.
Oh Father, thank you for Anna and how her love for You still teaches us thousands of years after her death. I pray that every person reading this will sit at Anna’s feet over the next few days and soak up the transforming grace that flows from her life into ours.