image credit: Elspeth Young
There were very few people who recognized Jesus as the Messiah at His birth. The only people who did recognize Jesus at His birth did so because they were told by angels or by some other form of special revelation. These select few who understood exactly who Jesus was from His birth were all humble witnesses of the Messianic prophecy. One of those witnesses was Anna.
Everything Scripture has to say about her is contained in just three verses: Luke 2:36-38. She is never mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. But these three verses are enough to establish her reputation as a genuinely extraordinary woman:
"Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." (NKJV)
Like other extraordinary women we have seen so far, Anna's hopes were to see the messianic prophecy unfold in her lifetime. Her hopes were suddenly fulfilled in an instant when she discovered that the Saviour she knew in her heart would one day come to Earth was the tiny child before her. She was blessed by God to be one of the handful of key witnesses who knew the significance of Jesus' birth. And she made no attempt to keep His birth a secret. She became one of the first and most enduring witnesses to Christ. No doubt wherever Luke's gospel is proclaimed, her testimony is still bringing others to the Savior. Thus she deserves a prominent place in this list of extraordinary women.
Though there are only three brief verses about Anna, Luke's narrative is loaded with key phrases that give us a surprisingly valuable understanding of Anna's life and character. Anna is said to be a prophetess which means she was a woman uniquely devoted to declaring the Word of God. She had a reputation as a gifted teacher of other women and a faithful encourager of her fellow believers.
She is also characterized as a widow. Widowhood in that society was extremely difficult. It virtually guaranteed a life of poverty. Anna either lived on charity or supported herself out of the remnants of her family's inheritance. Either way, she must have led a very prudent, chaste and simple life. Luke adds that she "served God with fastings and prayers night and day" (Luke 2:37) - which rounds out the picture of this elderly, dignified, devoted woman's life and ministry.
Scripture also says that "She spoke of Him to all" (Luke 2:38). The verb tense signifies continuous action. Every opportunity she had she would share the message about Jesus Christ. The Messiah had finally come and Anna was one of the very first to know who He was. She could not and did not want to keep that news to herself. She thus became one of the very first and most enduring witnesses of Christ. She literally could not stop talking about Him. Which is the most endearing part of Anna's extraordinary legacy.
I want to strive to be more like Anna. To proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ at every opportunity given to me and share about His love with such passion, dedication and excitement as she had. I want to share the same fervor that Anna owned when she witnessed our Lord's birth and realized that salvation for humanity was no longer just hopes and dreams...but a living promise...the very substance of things hoped for.