Anna (Hebrew: חַנָּה, Ancient Greek: Ἄννα) Woman mentioned in the Gospel of Luke. According to that Gospel, she was an elderly woman of the Tribe of Asher who prophesied about Jesus at the Temple of Jerusalem. She appears in Luke 2:36–38 in the PRESENTATION GOSPEL OF THE BABY JESUS AT THE TEMPLE. FEBRUARY 2, 2020.
Today is a bit of an unusual day. February 2nd is Super Bowl Sunday, the day of NFL glory, with a golden trophy and rings associated with its winner. Yet we are focused here on the King of Glory, Jesus. The opening Old Testament Scripture says that the Lord of Hosts will one day purify the sons of Levi to be golden, so that would be a better prize, as to be purified by God to be an eternal member of His kingdom. It’s so much better than a temporal prize, even while a super bowl ring is cool to wear. I saw Darrell Green’s one once. That Redskin champ told me and some others, though, that his Christian Faith was his most cherished gift of life. Today’s gospel has a woman in the Temple named Anna pointing to Jesus, saying “He is our Redeemer.” This Presentation Gospel and Feast is not usually on Sunday, except every 7-8 years, but it is falling on The Lord’s Day in this 2020.
Today is also Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil will be giving his weather forecast. February 2nd, 2020 is a numeric palindrome. The date is 02-02-2-0-20. The numbers go forward and backward evenly. 0 2 0 2 2 0 2 0. It unique and curious, is it not?
Our attention today in the Word is to take a look at a woman in a Lukan gospel which doesn’t normally come up on a Sunday. Yet it did today. Anna is the person who is mentioned in three verses of this Christmas Good News portion, and she makes a short but dramatic entrance. Since this part of Luke is passed over a lot, or little attention given over to her, I want you to notice Anna today, who plays a role in the tail end of the Christmas story.
Anna is one of the four persons mentioned around the baby Jesus, on His fortieth day of life. Where and when is this moment happening? It’s in Jerusalem at the Temple. The four main figures there around baby Jesus are Joseph and Mary, a holy man named Simeon, and Anna—this senior citizen attendee at Jesus’ 40th day induction into Judaism. Anna is a “mature” woman—both in years (eighty-four) and in depth of faith. She is mature (as in strongly developed within) to an authentic Jewish faith, as we note her using the gift of prophecy in the story, speaking of The Child (of Mary and Joseph) as to be the One to “bring on the redemption of Israel.” From that description, we know how Anna was gifted in faith. She had seen by faith this amazing reality before her. She recognized it. How did she already know Jesus’ identity—as the “Redeemer,” the One Who the prophets foretold? Anna knew it by a loyal faith and devout life of fasting and prayer. Anna thus speaks it forth to Joseph and Mary, and to others there. She says: I know that this is The Redeemer of the World. What a gift of confirmation this was to Mary and Joseph. They delighted in hearing it said.
I think of the very large Christ the Redeemer statue (“Cristo Redentor”) that looks over Rio de Janeiro. People are so impressed in seeing it in person, or even on film. The statue shows how believe it now that Jesus is Redeemer. Yet here Anna knew The Redeemer in the small original package of a baby.
Anna’s example encourages us to do fasting and prayer, and to offer hopeful longing for The Lord’s Return. We need some prophetic view of Jesus and to be able to see into the spiritual realities going on around us with Him in it. Anna’s example also urges us to be open to spiritual gifts, as like prophecy, or healing, or discernment, so that we might experience more of God’s realm.
Anna is also a good witness in her being consecrated-to-the-Lord. We note by this Gospel account that she was a single again person, probably for over six decades. Her husband died when she was likely twenty-one of age. She lived a full, meaningful life as a single (or single again) person afterwards. Anna seemed to be under some vow with God, and Mary and Joseph had made such a chastity pact with their mission, too, all in service to Jesus. I think they appreciated meeting up with her, as they were knew to the consecrated way. Perhaps Mary already knew Anna, since Mary grew up in Jerusalem, and this Anna was from Jerusalem for many decades. If so, then Luke is only hinting at it here in the gospel, as he also had Mary meet another older woman, Elizabeth, who also was spirit-filled and a boost to Mary’s mission. It is my thought that they did know one another, but that this meeting in the Temple that day was not arranged by them, but was a God-incidence.
I relate Mary’s seeing Anna again, in Jerusalem, to my own experience. I left Bowie in 1983, but came back as its priest in 2007. In my parish experience, then, and in the parish school, too, I would meet many people (older than I) who I had once known when I was a teen or boy, and when they were an adult practicing Catholic. Now they were seniors, and an continued Catholics in Bowie, to help me in my mission and vocation for The Faith there.
St. Luke the Evangelist uses Anna’s (and Elizabeth’s, earlier) part in the story to show how God truly respects persons of older age, as being highly valued to His plan. Luke is showing how important they are to the entry points of God the Son into the world. Luke is also paying his respects to women in The Good News, as he puts several women heroes in his texts. In this gospel of The Presentation, the older lady Anna greatly blesses the moment in The Temple. She prophesizes: God is come in this Child, and He will redeem the world in what He does!
Another lesson seen here in Anna at the Presentation story is that she is still vital at eighty four. She truly is, as they say, eighty four years young. Anna likely walked into the Temple area, and that informs us that she was caring for her physical being at that age, for to be so active daily. It says she “went daily” into the great Temple of Jerusalem. It means she had the energy and physicality for it. ‘Way to go, Anna! You are a patron saint of senior exercisers!
Anna is a person to remind me of persons today. It reminds me of the backbone of Catholicism likely being as the seniors. The greatest generation they have been called for their courage and valor to get us through times of war and change, but the strength I point to was the fidelity to the Faith and to be a practicing believer of Catholicism. They built up the churches in America in many ways and places, as well as in foreign lands.
I think of the Annas who are in our parishes today, coming frequently to pray, and to be of service, as to offer what is in their ability. There are some Annas right out here in front of me now.
Anna, being deep in spirit, does remind me of some outstanding and devout women I have known along the way in the Church of Washington. Some Anna’s have been the backbones of the parishes of which I have served, being the super volunteer, the committee or council member, the small group leader, the office helper or collection counter, or the singer. I can recall ladies named as Angie, Judy, Dorie, Charlene, Pat, Ruth, and many others who were such night-and-day presences to the parish, as like Anna’s part in The Temple. I think of religious women, too, who have served loyally around me in strategic roles for the Church’s growth and strength. Their self-giving and inspiration and dependency on The Lord is leading people today to the Redeemer, following Anna’s lead in Holy Scripture in this Christmas Story.
The main picture I get of Anna is of a prayer warrior and intercessor. We need such people in God’s House today. I imagine, by this text, of how it was Anna’s usual routine to be there at the Temple. Often she observed things and she prayed. Longing for the Jewish Faith to receive its Messiah, I see her there in the Temple interceding for the holy ones left in the Jewish faith, that they would keep faith. I see Anna also lamenting for the many fallen away ones of the ancient Faith, like the many who turned away in her own lost Jewish tribe of Asher, upon their weakness of centuries ago in falling to the Assyrians—yet here was a remnant in herself, pleading God for His remembering of all the covenant promises. I imagine Anna seeing the corrupt leaders of the Sanhedrin walking by, or once-in-a-while the wicked Jewish puppet leaders like Herod, and how she prayed for Israel’s purification. Anna likely observed the sad Sadducees passing along or the likely zealots going by with the wild fury in their eyes or the legalistic, proud, do-little Pharisees parading past. I can see here making intercessory prayer for them. I also imagine Anna making petition for the street beggars, or for persons like herself—the widows, to be treated better than lesser people or accursed people.
I picture Anna praying with a lovely face through all of this, there in a spot in the Temple, for she knew how she was loved by the God of Israel and that He would be good on His covenant promises one day, and maybe soon. Malachi the prophet’s word of “the Lord suddenly coming into His Temple” (as almost sneaking in) was starting to brighten up in her heart.
Anna the long time widow had learned to turn her affection to God, and for Messiah to be her spouse now, saying in prayer to Him: “Adonai, Mashiach! Note here in Your Temple is this woman of faith, Anna, who is loving You and still wanting You to redeem Israel. O come, O come Emmanuel. Come and be our love forever. Hear us pray, O, from your remnant people of faith, captive in Israel, run over by the Romans, and so weakened and feeble. Come to us, and save us!”
As we ponder all of this on the Feast of Presentation, we can conclude: The Lord heard her prayer and answered it. Didn’t He?!
On the 40th day of Baby Jesus’ existence, when the Holy Family made their trip to the Temple, and when Anna was sitting or kneeling somewhere in the building—God came through, suddenly, in revealing that indeed He had remembered His holy covenant. Anna’s soul likely got some sort of sign or indication to notice something special about a young woman and Child and man coming in to the Temple. Aroused in hope, Anna might have asked aloud to God: ‘Could this be the Sign, Lord? Of The Redeemer entering the Temple?!’ Even as a little baby, to come?!” Her spirit within answered loudly: ‘YES!!’
We cry out in church today in hope and affirmation: Holy, Holy, Holy! Blessed is He Who comes! Hosanna! Jesus! You are Redeemer! You are Lord! Now only say but The Word, and I shall be healed.
Here we are at the finish of the Christmas story. All other accounts (except a short one of Jesus at Twelve at the Temple) are about Jesus as the adult. The Church and her liturgies now move on to the start of Jesus’ ministry, for another year of review of the Way of Jesus.
The Epiphany story and with the Magi really come much after this one of the Presentation, but they have been moved by The Church for an earlier celebration in the Holy Season. Thus, we wrap up the Christmas story with this Presentation Gospel, and take to heart what Anna gives us today. The Special Baby come to Bethlehem, and then to Jerusalem, on Day 40, is the Redeemer. He is Christ Jesus the Lord. We belong to Him.
Further study: Other lessons from Anna. 4 take-aways.
- She practiced purity
Anna practiced purity. My, oh my—do we need models for it today! The text says “she was a prophetess, she fasted and prayed, and she never left the temple.” The text says how “she lived with her husband seven years from her virginity.” All these references reveal that Anna lived a separated or holy life. As you read The Word, you take note: When God did choose someone to offer a witness for His Son, He would choose someone who practiced purity, such as an Anna.
Anna’s purity serves as a beautiful picture that an effective witness flows from a holy life. Many Christians are weak and ineffective because their lives are filled with ungodliness. These weak witnesses live with shame knowing their hypocrisy limits their credibility in speaking for the cause of Christ, so these worldly believers remain silent. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy instructing him, “If a man cleanses himself he will be a vessel of honor, made holy, useful to the master and prepared for every good work.” (2 Tim 2:12).
An Old Testament example of sin limiting the power of God is the failed attempt of Israel to defeat the city of Ai. After having previously defeated a much stronger enemy at Jericho, the children of Israel fully expected God to deliver Ai as He had Jericho. After an embarrassing defeat, God revealed to Joshua that there was sin in the camp. Disobedient actions caused the defeat. It was not a lack of skill, not the strength of the enemy, not a lack of strategy, not a lack of effort, or a lack of sacrifice that stopped the advance of God’s army; it was sin that robbed the children of God of victory.
Impurity is probably robbing the Church today of a lot of ground in faith.
Just as sin stopped Israel’s advance into the Promised Land, it will silence the witness of Christ followers. Hypocrisy, shame, and a lack of purpose are not appealing to a lost soul. A lost person already struggles with those issues. The lost person wants to hear a message of hope that promises to deliver them from the vices that have destroyed them.
- She practiced a consistency in prayer and life
The biographical account of Anna reveals that she prayed “night and day.” When God would chose a handful of believers who testified at His Son’s birth, God would look to persons who prayed. Through prayer Anna gained an insight that many failed to grasp: God and His kingdom was breaking into the world. The world was getting birth-pangs of re-creation.
Anna likely was familiar with the prophecy of Jeremiah who declared for God, “Call upon me, and I will show great and mighty things that you do not know” (Jer. 33:3). Anna indeed saw mighty things of God that others missed.
A wise man of God has said, “You will never tell people about Jesus until you tell Jesus about people.” Through prayer the Bible says we gain wisdom (James 1:5). Through prayer in the Upper Room, the disciples were prepared to receive Pentecost in the Holy Spirit (Act 2). In prayer warfare, strongholds are torn down (2 Cor. 10:4-5, or the whole Joshua story). Additionally, doors are opened through prayer (Col 3:2-3). Boldness to advance wearing spiritual armor is gained through prayer (Eph. 6:19). Anna had these characteristics and practices. We should follow her example.
Anna went to the Temple to pray. We can go often to church to pray (and it need not be a grand church, like our cathedral and shrine in DC, but our parish church is fine.) Our church is open (via the office) for many times of the day and some nights and weekend times. Do you avail yourself to it? I do know some people who consistently visit the church. I see and noticed them.
We have some consistent people praying at Eucharistic Adoration. Before I was named to the parish, I came to a holy hour here, and saw people praying for me, their next pastor. It was nice.
- She proclaimed a bold faith, not holding back.
Anna spread enthusiasm of her faith. She didn’t keep it to herself. Look back at Anna’s story. The Scripture says she spoke to all who were looking for redemption (v. 38). So her consistency in prayer led to a consistency in witness to her faith.
The text says “she went up to them,” and she spoke to others who were looking for redemption. The story of her reveals her holy initiative to initiate the conversation about The Lord. That takes some boldness. The Holy Spirit gives that boldness. Anna recognized what an awesome privilege she had been given to testify of the Messiah. Some people thought she was just a crazy old lady, but Anna was more concerned about the Messiah than what the multitudes thought.
Boldness is not about doing crazy off the wall, life-threatening adventures. Holy boldness like Anna’s is stepping out of a comfort zone, by faith, to share the great news of eternal life with those who need it and are ready to receive it.
We don’t know who else was touched in Jerusalem by this woman Anna. (The Holy Family for sure, and St. Luke for sure!) Maybe Elizabeth and Zechariah were moved by her vigor back then, and it gave an influence to John their son. They all lived in Jerusalem at the time. They could have been familiar neighbors. We know that a holy boldness came upon John the Baptist, that’s for sure. He had to catch it from somewhere and someone. Maybe from some influence of a local woman named Anna.
Boldness prevents you from becoming negative or defeated when everyone does not respond. John the Baptist had that manner; could he have learned it from the example of a senior citizen in his formative years, as her?
- She persevered patiently.
You cannot read this story of the Presentation without noticing the emphasis on Anna’s age and thinking of what she was doing for a few decades of her widowed life. Widowhood would have been extremely difficult in her time, of the first century. Remember the Apostle Paul’s instruction to encourage young widows to remarry. The first deacons of the church were chosen to address needs related to widows. Anna probably battled poverty, loneliness, and depression, but she never lost hope in the God of Israel who loved her. She provides a powerful example to never give up. God’s timing is perfect, and Anna waited faithfully on her God.
Notice, Anna makes her greatest contribution at her weakest condition. You persevere by doing what you can, where you are, with what you have. Far too many saints complain or get discouraged about what they don’t have or can’t do. At senior citizen age, there were some things Anna could not do that she once did, but Anna kept on serving. I love the words spoken by Jesus to Mary of Bethany who anointed him with burial perfume. Jesus said, “She has done what she could.” Anna did what she could, too. It asks us: What are we doing with what we have?
A major lesson from Anna’s life is not to let age or any other kind of barrier prevent us from making a significant contribution to the Kingdom. One of the beautiful aspects of the whole Christmas story is the variety of people that God uses for His glory. Young and old, rich and poor, women and men – all play critical roles in God’s plan of redemption. Anna’s story challenges all of us to stop making excuses that limit our effectiveness and start making a difference with the opportunities and resources that we do have.
Yet, to finish on patience, Anna was in a waiting period for the Lord for many years. She had concluded that she was living in the Time of the Lord’s Visitation, but it was quite a wait until the Holy Child was seen by her at the Presentation. Yet her patience paid off. Big time. God is always worth our patience.