And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
// Luke 2:36-37
Anna had seen heartache in her life. Having lost her husband after only seven years of marriage, Anna spent the majority of her life – close to 60 years – alone, as a widow, no doubt impoverished and underprivileged, at the very bottom of the social ladder. Of anyone, Anna had reason to turn her back on God. She was a woman with seemingly nothing to her name. But she was also one who knew: Jesus plus nothing equals everything.
Devastation – the death of a loved one, the loss of livelihood, prolonged isolation – can lead us in one of two directions. It can make us either run from God or run to Him. We can blame God for our circumstances, hold Him responsible, shut Him out and curse His name. But this short glimpse of Anna’s life shows us an alternative. In fact, she goes to the other extreme.
We’re told that Anna never left the temple. Day and night she would be there, and not just on the sidelines but serving with all hear heart, with passionate prayer and sacrificial fasting. Even without the Bible at her disposal and well before the redeeming work of Christ had been completed, Anna was steadfast – fanatical, even – in her faith in God. Her perseverance, consistency and dedication are obvious from Luke’s description. But 60 years of spending every day at the temple, praying and fasting, doesn’t seem like a regular service to God. And it isn’t.
Anna allowed her adverse circumstances to propel her towards God. She dedicated her life to serving the God who turns mourning into dancing and sorrow into joy, who exchanges beauty for ashes, who causes the cup of the impoverished to overflow. Anna found out the truth: when God is all we have, He’s all we need.
Anna’s story provides us with one of the most beautiful pictures of God’s faithfulness: as she was faithful throughout her life and stayed at her post, serving in the temple, God was faithful to come to her. Despite her obscure circumstances, Anna’s name went down in history. He used her to bring His message of redemption to many and still uses her example to teach us, some 2000 years later, to be resolute in our faith in the Faithful One.