There was also 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.
Today’s reading carries on from yesterday’s account of Simeon’s encounter with the baby Jesus. Today we read of how Anna, a prophet, came forward and began to praise God. Unlike Simeon’s words, she uttered a prophecy in which she spoke of the child who would bring about the redemption of Jerusalem. Anna had lived and worshipped in the temple for many years. She had resided in the house of God where she had spent her time with fasting and prayer night and day. This account of the prophet Anna should encourage us as we strive to live lives of faith.
Anna’s long life is important as we reflect upon today’s words from Luke’s gospel. Anna had known the tragedy of widowhood and she had lived into old age. There must have been times during her eighty-four years when she would have struggled to maintain her daily discipline of fasting and prayer. But, Anna had an impressive ancestry which she could trace back to the tribe of Asher, the eighth of Jacob’s twelve sons. In the Old Testament we read of the prospering of the tribe of Asher, and of its spiritual shallowness and lack of devotion. Unlike other tribes of Israel the story of the tribe of Asher peters out as its reluctance to come to the aid of others led to its being carried off into bondage. But then we read of Anna of the tribe of Asher.
This brief historical pen-picture provides us with our challenge for today. Anna was a woman in a man’s world, a widow, a person of poverty, a survivor; she was also a devout person who faithfully redressed the tribe which had betrayed its calling many centuries earlier; as a prophet she was a student of scripture and an evangelist of Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus grew in wisdom and would eventually redeem humanity. But, as time continues to roll on, God calls us to pick up the model we are given in the life of Anna, the prophet, who fasted and prayed in the temple night and day. Let us pray that we might fulfil that calling in joy, the joy of the Christ-child who grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.
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