Summary: When Anna sees Jesus, she praises and proclaims the Messiah.
A novel, a movie, a television show, each has a cast of major characters and minor characters. Often the mark of a good story is a strong supporting cast, where the minor characters make an important contribution to the overall plot. For example, think back to The Beverly Hillbillies. Now, I realize some of you younger folks may have never heard of the show, but it is one of the three most popular TV series of all time, and occasionally, reruns show up on the cable networks. One of the characters, minor characters, on the show was Mrs. Drysdale, the banker's wife. But she played an important role by showing that the eccentricities of Beverly Hills high society were almost as great as the eccentricities of Tennessee hillbillies. Mrs. Drysdale was a minor character, but an important one.
When the Holy Spirit inspires Luke to record the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, he tells us of Mary and Joseph, the angels and shepherds and, as we saw last Sunday, a man named Simeon. But before he finishes his account, he tells us about one more individual, Anna. Now everything we know about this woman is found in three verses of Luke 2. She is not mentioned on any other page of the Bible. Anna is a very minor character in the Christmas story. Yet, she is important because she is a wonderful model for Christians of all ages to follow. Today we will see that her response to Christmas, to the first coming of Jesus, is one which God desires each of us to imitate. Let's pray God would use His Word to shape our lives to be more like Anna's.
Our text today is Luke 2:36-38. Last week we explored Verses 21-35, where Luke tells us about Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the temple. Mary and Joseph had brought Jesus to the temple about six weeks after His birth for two reasons. #1) So that Mary could go through purification rites that Jewish women went through after childbirth, and #2) so they could consecrate, or dedicate, Jesus to God. While they were there, they meet Simeon, a godly man who is thrilled to see the Messiah. As Simeon holds the Baby Jesus, he speaks a prophecy about the Messiah, and at that time Anna comes up to them.
Verses 2:36,37 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Luke tells us four facts about her. #1) She is a prophetess. That is a very significant title. It had been 400 years since the last Old Testament prophet, Malachi. That is a long time. And now God has raised a prophetess, which would seem to make her a very important individual. But, Luke doesn't focus on the title, he simply mentions that this is who Anna is. #2) She is a Jewess. As we read in Verse 36, she belongs to the tribe of Asher. That is one of the ten tribes of what had been the northern kingdom, but Anna had apparently been able to keep track of her genealogy. #3) She is an 84-year-old widow. Luke says she was very old, but 84 was a little older then than it is now. Apparently she was married seven years before her husband had died, which means she had spent many, many years alone. #4) She was a very devout woman. Luke says, 2:37b She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Some of you think you spend a lot of time in church. It is uncertain whether Anna actually had an apartment within the temple or if she simply came to the temple daily, but this woman pretty much lived there. Her life focused on worshiping the Lord.
Part of the reason Luke tells us about Anna is because he wants to make sure we understand that Jesus is a universal Messiah. He is the Messiah and Savior of all kinds of people. That includes women who often were not really respected in the ancient world, that includes widows who were often unable to support themselves financially, and it includes devout, religious Jews. Later on in Jesus' ministry, Luke will report that the Jewish religious establishment, the Pharisees and others, were very much opposed to Jesus. But, Anna and Simeon illustrated that some of the religious people welcomed the Messiah with open arms.
Indeed, as the angels had told the shepherds a few weeks earlier, Jesus' coming was good news of great joy for all the people, for all kinds of people. Luke tells us Jesus is the Messiah for shepherds, the kind of crude, low-class type of folks who would probably never show up to church, except for maybe a wedding or a funeral. And Luke says Jesus is the Messiah for Simeon and Anna, devout, pious people who practically lived at church. He has pretty much covered people from A to Z. The gospel, the good news, is for all people.