Thoughts on the Way – Anna’s Story
He was waiting, I thought, for someone to arrive, and he clearly had no intention of missing him when he came.
My name is Hanna or Anna. I have lived longer than you young ones can imagine. I am almost fourscore years of age. For that matter, I have been a widow for many more years than most people have lived. My husband was a good man of the tribe of Asher, but he has been gone for so long now that I struggle to remember his face.
From an early age, I have had to fend for myself. After my husband died, I never received another offer of marriage. And unfortunately, I have no children or grandchildren who can care for me. Single women need a family to provide shelter and support for them, and when they are left alone, it becomes a difficult chore just to survive. As the years passed, I grew too old and too crippled to glean in the fields for my daily bread, as the Law suggests.
Finally, I came to appreciate one of David’s psalms: “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself—a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.” (Psa 84:3) As other opportunities disappeared, I set out to apply for a place in the precincts of the great Temple of Herod, where I was accepted as a poor widow.
Here, I have found food as well as shelter, enough on which to survive. I have also found useful work to do. Sometimes, it is watching over children who, for various reasons, have become little “birds” in the Temple and who need mothers and grandmothers to care for them. Sometimes it involves listening to and counseling younger women who are also destitute, who live and serve in the Temple. Some are singers in the Temple choir.
Of course, some of these younger women marry and leave the Temple, and all of us who are left behind rejoice with them when they find new and potentially rewarding lives. Others are not so fortunate and finally resign themselves to the life which we older ones live. And while serving in God’s house in various capacities, we women at least have one another for friendship, understanding, and comfort.
I’ve always had a keen mind and a retentive memory. Probably more than almost any of the Temple women. I had listened to the priests and scholars as they read aloud from the holy Scriptures and commented on their meaning. As time went by, I began to speak of what I had learned to the other women of the Temple.
There were times when, being a woman, I had insights into passages that eluded even the most educated rabbis among the men, maybe for the plain reason that they were men! Sometimes, though not too often, the men did not mind listening to an informed woman who knew something about the Scriptures.
Then, there were also the hours that I could spend with the other Temple women, sharing my thoughts on God’s most holy Word. They were most appreciative because most men paid little attention to women’s opinions. In time, they came to call me “Anna, the prophetess.”
Simeon, a Righteous Man
It was during these last few years when I began to speak even in the company of the wise men at the Temple. I came to know Simeon, a righteous man of about my age who, like me, was also without family. I did not know him particularly well, and it would have been inappropriate for us to spend too much time together. But I heard him speak in the company of the students and scholars, and I recognized him as wise as well as devout.
One day, I heard him tell the others, “I have had a revelation of that, I am sure. By the power of His Spirit and His angel, the LORD has told me that, despite my advanced age, I will live until I have seen His Anointed One, the Messiah.”
It was an extraordinary statement, but no one who heard seemed to question his words. That was the kind of man Simeon was, a man of integrity. After that, Simeon spent every single day in the Temple area. He was waiting, I thought, for someone to arrive, and he clearly had no intention of missing him when he came.
Then, one day, it happened, but certainly not in the way one might expect. A young couple with a small baby arrived at the Temple to offer the sacrifice of purification and the gift for the redemption of their firstborn son. It was a scene that was played out so often in the House of the Lord that it did not seem in the least unusual—one more ceremony among thousands that had come before.
But not usual to Simeon! He stepped forward immediately with a blessing before any priest or Levite could do so. Then, solemnly and ceremonially, he asked for the child. The young mother willingly handed him over. His name was Jesus, meaning “Savior.” Then Simeon praised God in a voice much louder than normal. He seemed to want everyone nearby to hear his announcement:
“Lord God, just as You have promised, so it has happened. You have shown me your promised salvation, bound up in Your ancient revelations. And my eyes have seen that salvation, which You have prepared for all peoples. This child will be the great Light to enlighten Israel and the entire world. Heavenly Father, Your servant will now be pleased to depart this life in peace because he has witnessed such a wondrous salvation!”
Then Simeon turned to the mother and gently handed back the precious burden to her care. As he did this, he added:
As I listened, I had my own personal vision of a sort. I felt as though the sword that pierced her was piercing me, too. I thought that as he grew up, the baby Jesus would be loved by many but also hated by many others. Some will even wish him dead. One thing the Scriptures teach plainly is that any salvation for God’s people must be bought with suffering and blood. The young woman who has borne this child will witness that shedding of blood. I shall pray for her.
As a spectator, I thanked God at that very moment, grateful for the simple yet profound knowledge that had been conveyed to me, along with others. It must have been in just such a way that our Father in heaven speaks to His beloved child. Praise be to His glorious Name.
To the onlookers in the Temple, this little scene was over almost before it had begun. The little group of three, a man, woman, and child, departed as quickly as they could into obscurity. Some of us were still struggling to understand Simeon’s message.
Some said the little family paused for no one but immediately returned to their home in Nazareth of Galilee, they assumed. It appeared that the family wanted to remain anonymous for their own safety, but especially for the protection of the child.
Some remembered the shepherds of Bethlehem, who had brought their young lambs as sacrifices to sell in the Temple marketplace for Passover just a few weeks earlier. These country shepherds had told a different but similar story about the birth of a special child who would be the Son of God.
But then it was pointed out that the first incident happened near Bethlehem, just an hour’s walk south of Jerusalem, while this young couple seemed to have come from Galilee, a poor, neglected region far to the north. This apparent discrepancy led scoffers to question all potential “revelations” as so much baseless nonsense. But I knew better. I knew the kind of man Simeon was, and I had seen the three from Galilee and heard Simeon’s proclamation.
My New Resolution
Life continued on, day after day, and I needed to give attention to my ongoing duties in the precincts of the Temple. I hadn’t forgotten what had happened that day, nor the part I had played also, not at all. But it had sunk somewhere deep in my consciousness.
It seems that Simeon came less and less to the Temple until one day, it dawned on me that I had not seen him in several weeks. I inquired of another man whom I saw often in the Temple, a man who was an acquaintance of Simeon. Was he ill? He informed me that, sadly, Simeon had passed away. And I remembered some of the last words he had spoken, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” (Luke 2:29 NLT)
So it had happened, but with this news, I felt sad no longer. My friend Simeon had indeed departed in peace, the sort of peace all men and women feel when they are satisfied to rely on the promises of God’s holy prophets. This was a class to which that good man Simeon had most surely belonged.
As the news of Simeon’s departure sank in, I resolved to faithfully share his revelation with others as long as I breathed. I would tell anyone with ears to hear about the salvation that was coming, which had already arrived! There is no better way I can live the rest of my life. May the Lord God give me strength to the end.
Austin Leander Ecclesia, TX
Notes and References:
- Some of this story involves what we might call educated guesses, but I have tried to fill in the gaps in the Bible story with what might have been, not what is certain.
- Introduction: This story is told in Luke 2:22-38. The Law of Moses allowed poor people to glean in the field after the regular harvest (Lev 19:9; 23:22; Ruth 2:2,3). For the birds finding a home in God’s House, see Psalm 84:3. As for Anna living in the precincts of the Temple, see the example of Huldah the prophetess (2 Kgs 22:14; 2 Chron 34:22). The early Christian church seemed to follow a similar practice in supporting widows who could not support themselves (1 Tim 5:1-5). For female singers in the Temple choir, see Ezra 2:65; Neh 7:67; and Psa 68:25.
- Simeon, a righteous man: The “consolation, or comfort, of Israel” refers to Isaiah 40:1, 2. Also compare Isaiah 61:1; 6:1, 3, 5; 57:1, 2; 62:11, 12; 52:10; 8:14, 15; 53:5, 7, 8, all quoted or alluded to by Simeon. The reference to the shepherds of Bethlehem is found in Luke 2:8-20.