There was a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped 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.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
Yesterday we met faithful Simeon, today Luke’s account of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple concludes with Anna’s encounter with the Holy Family.
In very few words, Luke reveals a lot about Anna. We know her age and that, as a much younger woman, she had been married for just seven years before enduring the tragedy of widowhood. In our own communities there are many people of a similar age to Anna who remember the horrors of the Second World War. Anna would have remembered similar horror from the days of her youth. Anna would have remembered the days when brutal and ruthless Romans had conquered Jerusalem. Then, like so many in our twenty first century world, she lived out her days under the oppressive regime of tyrannical forces. Despite this, Luke singles Anna out as one of three significant women in the story of Christ’s nativity: Mary, Elizabeth and Anna.
Today’s reading is not long and yet it tells us much about the remarkable Anna. As well as being a woman, a widow and a survivor, we know that she is a person of poverty, a faithful remnant of the tribe of Asher, a devout person, a student of God’s word, a teacher and a prophet, an evangelist for Christ. It is easy to see why Anna’s memory is honoured in the gospel narrative.
Anna and Simeon both waited and prayed. Both Anna and Simeon received the divine revelation that the baby presented by Mary and Joseph was the child they had waited for all their lives. Both Anna and Simeon understood that their hopes, and the hopes of the whole world were cradled in Mary’s arms. Anna came to know that the hurts she had experienced in her life were being healed in the baby she gazed upon in the Temple on the day of his Presentation. Jesus was already at work, reconnecting this troubled and divided world with the God who created it. Jesus was already giving humanity the reason for living and hoping.
The story of Anna, alongside that of Simeon, invites us to lay aside false hopes and worldly disappointments. Instead, we are invited to join them in bearing witness to the hope and light that Jesus brings into this world. It is our calling to be successors of Anna and Simeon, bearers of the hope, the light and the glory that are to be found in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.