Women of Advent and Christmas: Anna
- 2011 6 Dec
Christmas came to old Anna, because Anna was waiting. Anna saw beauty, because God chose her and she said "Yes."
A weird belief in our culture is that God is pretty lucky if we choose him. "Why should I believe in God?" people will ask me, and there are certainly answers to this question, but really it is not a very good question.
Our hope should be that God believes in our continued existence. Of course, it is perfectly possible to ignore God and His will and live ... for a time. It is true that getting rid of an outside moral law means nobody can be a hypocrite. It is also true that dispensing with any hope of paradise and life after death means that there is no fear of hell either.
For a little bit elite secularism can even maintain itself by living off the heritage of a religious past, but such a culture cannot last. The rest of us start living as we please, because the rulers have a hard time telling us what good is let alone why we should sacrifice our short-term pleasure for the future.
We eat, too much, we drink, too much, and tomorrow we die, but tomorrow seems far away. Even religion evolves into something to satisfy our felt needs.
Our God makes no demands on us, but we make plenty of demands on Him. "Give us," we pray, "our daily Sudafed." We don't want pain, even if it lives us psuedo-fed and stunted intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
The warnings come too late and when they come we have been taught to blame God. Why didn't He tell us? Or if He did tell us why didn't He put His message on television and not in a book? Or if we saw something on television, then why didn't He make it more attractive?
We are cancer victims who blame the doctor for our smoking and curse the medicine for our disease.
Anna is a perfect example of the opposite point of view. She had the sense to take personal pain and use it to learn. It got her attention and instead of wallowing in emo reflections of how hard things had gotten, she went to God's House and wanted for Him to come.
I have never heard a sermon on Anna, but she was part of the Christmas story. Luke, doctor and follower of Jesus, told her story in the second chapter of his life of Jesus:
36There 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, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Anna never makes the Christmas special, because all she got to do was see God in the flesh. There were no angels and no need for a special effects budget. She was a prophetess, but not our exciting modern kind that predict Hitler's rise like Nostradamus or Michael Jackson's death like the psychics at the National Enquirer. Instead, she was the dull Biblical kind, who end up speaking for God.
God usually doesn't tell us much about the future, apparently thinking we need to focus a good bit more on the present. He also seems stuck on saying how great He is, which irritates modern people even more.
We cannot understand why God would send a prophetess to give Himself a recommendation. Is He insecure? Is He worried we will not notice that He is Creator?
We forgot that God does not need our praise ... omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence leave you feeling good about yourself. Instead, God knows we need to see God, because God is perfectly good, beautiful, and true. We would be changed for the better by such a vision, but we cannot take the awesomeness straight.
It would burn us up with delight.
So God spoke to His chosen people, the Jews, through some of His faithful followers and Anna was one of these, a prophetess. We can be sure she was constantly speaking about God's goodness, the beauty of His Word, and the all His great deeds.
It is the kind of thing God says mostly.
People then, as well as now, were trudging off to shrines like Delphi hoping for gods to tell them about their felt needs. What about their husband? Would their business succeed? Who would win the Olympics in boxing? That is the sort of thing they wanted to know, but God kept trying to show them Goodness, Truth and Beauty.
Didn't he know we wanted stuff?
Anna had lost her husband quickly. She could have cursed God or remarried. Instead, she moved into God's house and decided to pray and to fast. She lost earthly love and decided to gamble on heavenly love. She waited a long time, but one day love came.
She held the answer to her real needs in her arms. She saw God. She saw beauty. She saw goodness. She saw truth.
Anna was very old, but she hadn't just been waiting. She had been getting ready by purging her body through fasts and learning the language of Heaven through prayer. When Jesus entered the Temple, she knew the God-Man and came to Him. Practice had prepared her for the Perfect and she prophesied.
She said "thank you" to God for showing up when He did not have to do so and pointed out to anyone who would listen that the real solution to their problems had arrived.
She did not make the secular history books and the religious leaders of the day ignored her. Evidently the only person who remembered her words was the mother of the baby who later told her doctor, a guy named Luke.
Anna became part of Christmas.
He is coming and He isn't coming in our timing or on our terms. He isn't coming as a cosmic Google to answer our questions, but He is coming with the Answer. We can roll our eyes, but He is impossible to mock, because He has been mocked already, killed, gone to hell, and come back to life.
We are feeble before His power and weak before His love and mercy.
If we take the time to be ready for Him when He comes. Because Jesus is no longer a little baby and He will return. You will see Him within one hundred years of reading these words, because either He will have returned to end history or you will be done.
Either way, like Anna you will see Jesus. He is your salvation, but if you have missed Him or refused Him ... His love will be painful to you. If you have refused to be healed, then you will go where the terminally ill must go.
Anna persisted, spoke to God and listened. She spoke for God and did this for decades. She was changed and made fit for salvation and God saved her. God delighted to save her and give her joy. He came, was held by her, the God who had held the cosmos on one finger.
Anna might have missed that moment by sitting home waiting for God to meet her pain at the loss of a husband or her pain in old age.
Anna was ready for Jesus. Will I be? Will you?
Originally posted December 22, 2009.
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.
Image: Simeon's prophecy to Mary, Oil on panel; 55.5 x 44 cm; c. 1628; Hamburg, Kunsthalle