FIRST TO ACCLAIM THE CHRIST
This story of Anna is recorded in
Humble, staid, serious, unearthly in spirit, a woman of a strangely expectant faith-that was Anna the prophetess, the first person to proclaim Jesus as the Christ. In the little band of men and women who looked for the Redeemer, she was the one figure that stood out in bold strokes.
This was a period when Rome dominated the entire Mediterranean world, ruling an empire larger than the Greeks, the Persians, or the Egyptians had known. The Empire was strong and powerful. Its science, philosophy, theology, wealth, ecclesiastical and social power reigned supreme and were in opposition to any such idea as the coming of a Messiah. But there were a few, like Anna, who knew that the prophecies long foretold would be fulfilled.
Why was the first one in Judaea to proclaim the Christ this gentle, elderly woman? Luke depicts Anna as dwelling in an ivory tower of the spirit, aloof from worldly preoccupations, she lived on a plane apart from material things and ‘served God with fasting and prayers night and day.” He calls her a prophetess and in that she joins others eminent figures-Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah. Anna stands foremost among prophetesses in the New Testament.
In Luke’s brief description of Anna we learn that she was a woman of great age, who “had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years.” From that passage commentators determine her age differently. Some say that she was eight-four years old. Others interpret the text to mean that she had been a widow eight-four years. If she had been married seven years, she was now probably well over a hundred years old. But her exact age is of no great consequence.
More important is Anna’s spirituality. The mention of her is so brief that little of her character can be given. But there is enough to liken her to a bright star that sweeps above the horizon and then suddenly dips down out of sight.
Denied the triumphs of motherhood, she had scarcely absented herself from the Temple since her early widowhood. Probably she held the place in the Temple of a deaconess or Sister of Charity.
It is easy to visualize Anna as a woman erect for her years, walking about the pillared Temple of Jerusalem in a flowing black dress with a shoulder shawl of a brighter hue, probably purple and paler drapery about her white hair.
Onlookers, however, would not observe too closely Anna’s attire, but her face, a face that showed neither hate nor cynicism nor malice, but a gentle sweetness and a serene spirituality. She seemed to say, “I am one of those who never ceases to believe in the great wonders of God.” Her faith was the kind that gives meaning to the words of Joel quoted later by Peter in his great speech at Pentecost: “I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath” (Acts 2:19).
Anna belonged to the godly remnant. Perhaps she, like the Wise Men, had searched the skies the night Christ was born and had seen the “star in the east.” She was one of those who had time to enjoy all of God’s beauties, such as the stars that lighted the sky at night, the dawn that broke in all its effulgent color over the Temple, and the setting sun as it dipped behind the tall spires shadowing the Temple’s rugged stonewalls.
Though an old woman of the ancient tribe of Asher, a daughter of Phanuel, Anna was young in hope. She not only confessed the Christ but spoke of Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel. Is not this the real clue to Anna’s creative, active, significant self?
Among these others looking for redemption and the coming of the messianic age were people of a simple faith, people who like Anna were more engrossed in spiritual things around the Temple than in material things, people who read the Scrolls of the Law and the Prophets daily and believed fully what Isaiah had spoken when he said, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness” (Isa. 32:1). “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse” (Isa. 11:1). She believed, too, in what the prophet Micah had said, “But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel” (Mic. 5:2). She believed, too, in what Isaiah had said in Isaiah 2:2-4, and what Micah had said in almost the same words in Micah 4:1.
We know that Anna was a woman who listened to the reading of the scrolls of the sacred scriptures (the Bible of her time) and believed fully in the prophecies they contained. Not only did she believe, but she watched unceasingly for the coming of the Messiah.
The time for her to see Him with her own eyes finally came. It was at His presentation in the Temple as an infant according to the customs of the chosen people, and at the ceremonial service of His mother’s purification, forty days after His birth. The favored mother, Mary with Joseph, had now come up to the holy city on Mount Zion from Bethlehem, to present the most mysterious offering that had ever been laid before that altar.
Probably Anna watched Mary cross the large open space within the Temple walls, called the Court of the Gentiles, and ascent the beautiful steps of the uncovered gateway leading into the Court of the Women, a higher area which lay like a terrace above the outer court.
Just as the venerable Simeon uttered his famous Nunc Dimittis, saying, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Luke 2:29-30), Anna stood watching the wondering priest. No sooner had she seen the enraptured Simeon lift the child Jesus in his arms than she caught the heavenly inspiration that animated the priest and the baby’s parents.
Turning to the bystanders who had waited so long for the redemption of the Lord, Anna declared that this was the promised Messiah, the Hope of Israel, the Redeemer of the world. What greater prophecy could there by than this concerning an unconscious, helpless babe?
This aged woman had seen God more than events, and God in events. She had seen because she was intimate with grace, providence, and redemption.
As Joseph and Mary quietly wended their way out of the Temple with the child Jesus, we can see Anna unobtrusively returning to her thanksgiving and prayer in the Temple. In all probability she did not live to witness the public manifestation of the Christ, much less to hear His divine teachings and promises. But she had been there to behold Him and to thank God for Him and to speak of Him to all those men and women of prayer and devotion who had looked for the redemption He was to bring.
By: Edith Deen
“All the Women of the Bible”