The day dawned like any other day for most of Jerusalem’s residents. As the sun rose over the ancient hills of Moab to the east of Jordan, its first rays reflected from the gilded pinnacle of Herod’s temple, still under construction. The early market traders began to set out their stalls, preparations were being made for the morning sacrifice, and there, as always, in the court of the women, the aged figure of Anna knelt in silent prayer.
Anna was well known to all who regularly visited the temple in Jerusalem. When the daily ceremonials were ended and the priests and Levites had fulfilled their responsibilities, Anna would often still be there with the night watch who stood ‘in the house of the Lord’, Ps. 134. 1. She was there again as morning broke and the dark shadows receded, taking her usual place as near to the holy sanctuary as the courtyard allowed.
Nobody knew for certain how old Anna was, but they knew she had been a widow for as long as any could remember. Anna had enjoyed married life for just a brief period of seven years before sorrow entered her life while she was still young. She had never married again, but the trials of life through years exceeding the allotted span had not left her embittered. In fact, she had learned to lean upon her God for support, a God who always made provision for the widows. Her dependence had drawn her closer to the Lord, so much so, that He could commune with her and reveal to her His will as to the prophets of old. This she then made known to others of kindred spirit, a remnant who were anticipating Messiah, the Redeemer of the nation.
Anna could trace her ancestry back to Asher, the son of Jacob. Her tribe had been taken captive by the Assyrians and scattered among the other nations; their identity seemingly lost, with only a few individuals returning to the land of promise. However, they were never out of the mind or the care of a covenant-keeping God, and the blessing given by Moses to the tribe of Asher finds a beautiful echo in the experience of Anna, ‘as thy days, so shall thy strength be’, Deut. 33. 25.
Heaven had been silent for almost 400 years. Silence from heaven, however, is not evidence of inactivity. Throughout those intervening years the stage was being set for the event so long anticipated by Anna, the birth of Messiah. From small beginnings on the banks of the river Tiber, the power of Rome had arisen to dominate the Mediterranean region and beyond. Unbeknown to Caesar, a greater power was at work. When Augustus issued his decree, ‘that all the world should be taxed’, Luke 2. 1, to his mind it was doubtless a display of authority; it boosted his ego and his income. The real reason for the decree was to make sure that a carpenter from an undistinguished town called Nazareth, would journey to a town called Bethlehem at just the right time for his young wife to give birth to her first child; the fullness of the time had come!
Anna was not alone in her temple vigil; Simeon was often there. He too would receive direct communication from the Holy Spirit, assuring him that the appointed time was drawing near. Could it be that together they had read and searched the law and the prophets to learn something of the mind of God? Anna’s ancestral homeland was far to the north, reaching almost to Tyre and bordering the sea. But she knew that the fulfilment of heaven’s purpose was centred in Zion, the city of God, so she would occupy her time with ‘fastings and prayers’ in Jerusalem. Anna also knew that the law gave instruction for an offering to be brought forty days after the birth of a man child, Lev. 12. 1-8, and where better to bring an offering but to the temple? Both Simeon and Anna were aware of Malachi’s prophecy, where, shortly before he laid down his pen for the final time, he recorded for the benefit of a waiting people, ‘the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple’, 3. 1. Doubtless this has a yet future fulfilment, but it served as an indication to the faithful ones in Jerusalem that their hopes would not be in vain.
Day by day Anna had watched the visitors to the temple. Now, on this day which had begun with accustomed regularity, Anna’s attention was suddenly gripped. Her heart began to beat faster as she strained to hear Simeon’s voice. A few others had gathered around him, but his focus was upon a family who by their appearance and dress Anna judged were possibly Galileans from the north of the country. They were certainly not dressed in Jerusalem’s finest. She noticed that the man’s hands were workman’s hands, and he held a small cage in which were two young pigeons for sacrifice, evidence of their limited circumstances.
Anna watched as Simeon gently lifted the babe from His mother’s arms. He gazed for a moment at the tiny form, then lifting his eyes heavenward, Anna saw that his face was radiant. He spoke in a reverent whisper, a prayer of thanksgiving. She could not catch it all, but she heard the words, ‘mine eyes have seen thy salvation … a light to lighten the Gentiles … the glory of thy people Israel’, Luke 2. 30-32. Suddenly, all the years of waiting, the loneliness, the tears and disappointments slipped from her shoulders, and she found herself thanking the Lord over and again as the little family tried to take in what they had heard. Then, raising her voice, she addressed those who had gathered around to witness the occasion and to hear the words. Simeon had spoken of salvation, Anna, of redemption. Both were bound up in the bundle of life held in Simeon’s arms.
Anna would not live to see the Lord’s miracles, or hear His gracious words, but she immediately recognized in this one the fulfilment of all her hopes and she could not help but speak of Him.
Are we as eager to tell others what we know of our Saviour?