Summary: This message looks at Anna's encounter with the Christ child at the templ
In Luke Chapter 2, we see two people who encounter the Christ child as Mary comes to be ritually cleansed six weeks after childbirth, as Jewish law commanded. The first was an elderly man named Simeon. Writings in the second century said that he was 112 years old. Luke tells us that he was a devout man who was waiting for the consolation of Israel when Israel would be relieved of all of its trials and tribulations, mainly the occupation of Israel by Rome. Simeon and many other Jews were praying for deliverance by God and for the ascension of a king who would rule with justice and righteousness and then shepherd them spiritually to worship the one true God. His prayer is that it would be done in his lifetime and so day after day, Simeon would go to the temple to pray, hoping and longing for God’s deliverance. He listened for the nudgings of the Holy Spirit and on this day, God revealed to him His prayer was answered as the Messiah had come to the Temple. In that moment, he experienced the joy of seeing his prayer for Israel answered and now was ready to go be with God.
After Mary and Joseph encountered Simeon, they then met a prophetess named Anna. A prophetess was someone who received direct revelation from God about future events but also about present events as our Scripture today attests. They then passed it along to others. Thus, Anna spoke forth the truth of God, that is what God is up to, to people who had come to the Temple and even to the nation of Israel. The name Anna means “grace”. A name is Jesus time was more than a name, it was a person’s calling and destiny. So Anna was called to share God’s grace in people’s lives. Grace is “God’s unmerited love” and as John Wesley defined it: “outward signs, words or actions ordained by God” of God’s love in our lives.
Anna was of the tribe Asher. That tribe is located in the northern part of Israel in the region of Galilee and is one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Asher was the eighth son of Jacob and his named means “happy” or “blessed.” Anna knew the blessings of God through her gifts as a prophetess and in God, true happiness, even though her outward circumstances may have indicated otherwise. Because her life was about speaking the truth of and sharing the grace of God in her prophecies, there must have been a joy in her life which defied her circumstances. The Gospel of John records the words of Christ which surely experienced during her days. “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11) And Anna had the experience of not only sharing that joy but seeing it take root in other people’s lives.
Being a woman was difficult in Jesus’ time. The Jewish culture was one of the most male dominant cultures in the whole world. The man had authority over his wife and daughters establishing their activities and their relationships. Women could not play a significant role in the faith at any level. They did not recite the daily shema, they did not read the Torah in the synagogue, they could not come come to any feasts or festivals, unless their husband decided to go. Women were allowed to receive very little religious education. In the Temple, women were only allowed in "the Court of the Women" not because there were only women there but because women could not go beyond it. All Jews, men and women, were permitted in this area where they could talk to priests, pray, observe the proceedings, bring their sacrifices and make their offerings to God. In this, the largest of the temple courts, there could be seen constant dancing, singing and music. There were four unroofed chambers in the corners of the Court of Women. One was the place where priests inspected the firewood removing wood that was worm-eaten; another was the room where those taking the Nazarite vow would cut their hair and cook their peace-offerings. A third chamber was the place where drink offerings and grain offerings were kept. The fourth was the place where lepers would cleanse themselves in a ritual bath, called a mikveh, before presenting themselves before the priest. This chamber was also used for women to be purified after childbirth. This is where Mary had come to be ritually cleansed.
Luke tells us that Anna was a widow. She was married for 7 years when her husband abruptly died. Jewish woman in Anna’s day could marry as early as the age 12. If this were true for Anna, she would have been 19 when her husband died and a widow for 65 years. Being a widow was difficult. A widow in ancient Palestine was one of those in a very vulnerable financial condition. Women were dependent on men protection and provision. Most widows had no legal standing and no financial resources or income of their own. For this reason, the Torah recognized widows as a special class of people who needed protection. The Jewish faith was always concerned for the poorest and most vulnerable. A widow was free to marry any man except a high priest but Anna never remarried. A widow does not inherit her husband’s estate, but she is entitled to be maintained out of his property and to live in his house after his death throughout her widowhood until she remarries. The widow is generally entitled to receive the same standard of living as she was entitled to receive during her husband's life. That is assuming that the deceased husband’s estate had enough assets and funds to provide for her. In a society where the vast majority lived on a subsistence level, paycheck to paycheck, many widows had no such funds from their deceased husband.