There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38) NRSV
It may come as a surprise to some that there were female prophets in Israel in addition to the more famous males. There was Miriam, of course, Moses’s sister, but there were also Deborah and Huldah. Miriam left a notable song, sung on the shores of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:21) and Deborah too left a song of triumph (Judges 5). Of Huldah we know little except what is recorded in 2 Kings 22:14-20, and Anna, apart from this brief mention in Luke’s Gospel, has left nothing but her name—and an example.
What did she do in the temple all that time, praying and fasting? Where did she sleep? How did she feed herself? We don’t know, but we have to remember that the temple complex was huge—about the size of two football fields—so there was plenty of room for her to exercise her mission. But she was confined to the Court of Women; how did she feel about that, devout woman that she was? Was she perhaps an anchoress, like Julian of Norwich?
We don’t know, of course, but what we do know is that she was praying “for the redemption of Jerusalem.” In the Celtic Christian tradition, redemption “is the journey of being reconnected to the light of God within.” She wasn’t praying for the Messiah to come in triumph and sweep away the Roman occupiers and usher in the thousand years of peace. No, she prayed for the rejoining of Israel to the light of God.
In the true prophetic tradition, Anna was praying that Israel would be brought back from the ways in which she had strayed from following the commandments of God. As many prophets had lamented, Israel had become faithless. Anna recognized, with true prophetic insight, that this child would redeem Israel and she rejoiced to see this day. We don’t know anything more about this devout grandmother, but what we do know from these few simple words is that she was a shining light in the darkness.
We thank you, most gracious God, for the life and witness of your servant Anna. Endow us with your grace so that we, like her, may also have the insight to recognize the Christ child, bear witness to him, and walk in his light all the days of our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.