Do you feel weary this Christmas? Has this year given you new heartbreak and uncertainty that you did not see coming? The holiday season is centered around the themes of hope and joy, yet often in our own hearts those themes are nowhere to be found. When our hearts are breaking, it can be easy to turn away from the holiday cheer and give room for the thoughts that tell us that God is not near. However, when we look at the true Christmas story, we see characters that live hard lives of loneliness and sorrow, and yet they were drawn into God’s great story of redemption and given a place in history. Let’s take a closer look at the prophetess Anna.
Anna is introduced as an elderly widow woman of deep faith, who spends her days fasting and praying at the temple with eager expectation for the arrival of the Messiah. She has now come to the end of her life and she knows her days are numbered. Yet one day, just like any other day, as she is lifting her hands in prayer, she overhears the voice of Simeon, a friend and fellow prophet. He is presenting another baby boy to the Lord, a ceremony he has performed hundreds of times before. Yet, his voice sounds stronger and livelier than she has heard him in years. Something sounds different about this family. She races into the room in order to catch the end of the blessing that Simeon is proclaiming. Her heart begins to race as she listens and she is speechless for just a moment. Could this be true? Could this child in front of her be the one Israel has been waiting for? The one she has been waiting for? She looks at Simeon for the confirmation that she can already feel is true within her heart. This is it! Her faith was becoming her sight. Tears of jubilation flowed down her withered cheeks as she takes the little boy into her arms and look upward in praise. How did she get to this place? What had led her to this incredible moment?
I imagine Anna on her wedding day, a young beautiful bride full of hope and expectation as she looks toward her future. As she walks towards her groom surrounded by the love of family and friends, I imagine her to be dreaming of all that is to come for her. She has found a provider, someone to care for her through her lifetime. She doesn’t expect to be anyone worthy of great significance, yet she is anxious to begin the life that she has witnessed so many of her relatives have before her. She longs for the pitter patter of little feet to fill their humble home. She looks forward to a simple life as a faithful Jewish wife and mother. As the feast and celebrations continue, laughter and joy rings out, you can feel the excitement as this new life together begins.
However, it doesn’t take long for the laughter to fade as the years go by. Friend after friend announces joyfully that she is expecting a child as Anna looks down at her barren womb and begins to feel incomplete. Tears well in her eyes each time she must endure another invite to a baby dedication in the temple. I imagine Anna and her husband celebrating their 7th year of marriage in silence and separation, the spark of joy has diminished, and they mourn the life they wanted. Why would God choose to withhold the greatest blessing of all from them? They had always been faithful and served the Lord. Anna although filled with sadness, still clings to the knowledge that God is good and loves his people. She continues to hope in a beautiful future. At least she has her husband, who is still kind and good to her. They would have each other to care for. She doesn’t lose hope.
Then without warning a few months later, Anna loses her beloved husband, and she is thrown into a new wave of grief and uncertainty. It feels like everything is against her at this point. She is left broken-hearted and without much to her name. This young widow is at a crossroads of what to do next. Without a husband or children, she does not seem to fit into Jewish society well. Others encourage her to seek out another potential husband to redeem her situation and give her a second chance at the life she wanted. Whether unwillingly or by choice, this is not the story that unfolds for her. So where will she go now? Anna must be full of heartbreak, shame and hurt. She is desperate for her pain to be seen and to be known. She recognizes that what she is looking for can only be found in one place. Anna arrives at the temple with the few belongings that she might own and never leaves. She recognizes that the only thing to satisfy her heart completely isn’t in a husband or a child of her own but is in her great God. She comes with only herself to offer, and she is received in. She spends decades here in the temple establishing a routine of fasting, prayer and worship. Her circumstances have nothing to do with her joy and hope. She dedicates her entire life to knowing the heart of God and praying for the fulfillment of the promise that one day God would send a rescuer for her and her people. She experiences great intimacy with the Lord and becomes known as a righteous prophet, a title rarely given to a woman in her day. She keeps her eyes on the promise, trusting God in his character to be faithful and good.
When Anna looked down at the infant boy in her arms that fateful day in the temple, she wasn’t thinking about how she never got to hold a child of her own. She wasn’t sorrowful that she lived the majority of her life without a husband to provide and care for her. No, she wasn’t thinking about all she had missed out on. She was completely satisfied knowing full well that Gods love and care over her lifetime was better than any husband could have given her. She knew that this child in her arms was the ultimate blessing for not just her, but the entire world. She knew that she had lived a life worthy of the calling God had so graciously given her. If she had lived the life that she dreamed of as a young bride on her wedding day, a life of comfort and normalcy, she would have never been in this glorious moment and we would never have known her name. It was her heartache and suffering that had brought her closer to her Savior.
Anna’s story doesn’t end there. Scripture tells us that she immediately begins to tell everyone what she has seen and heard. She cannot keep this blessing to herself. She ends her life proclaiming God’s faithfulness in the fulfillment of his promise. Anna leaves a legacy that ua remembered from generation to generation, a legacy of hopeful expectation, of humble servitude, and immense gratitude. Anna chose a life of praise after tragedy. We too know what heartbreak feels like, yet often times we allow those trials to define us and push us farther from our Savior instead of closer. As we celebrate the hope and joy of this Christmas season, let us take our sorrow and pain straight to the Lord and watch him transform it into a life of praise and purpose. Like Anna, let us express our praise by telling everyone how good our God is to send us Jesus, and let us wait with expectant and eager hearts for his return.