LUKE 2:36-40 (NIV)
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
You have to wonder if bystanders in the temple that day recognized what was unfolding as the crowd bustled around them. As Simeon held Jesus in his arms, delighting in this child, the consolation and hope of Israel, some may have turned their heads in wonder, others may have busied themselves with the business that brought them to the temple that day.
We don’t know what caught Anna’s attention. We don’t know if she overheard Simeon. If a crowd had gathered around him. Or, if something stirred in her spirit to send her searching for something significant that day. Regardless, she was caught up in worship as heaven met earth. An earthly house of worship, in that moment, held within it living, breathing holiness. By the declaration of Simeon’s revelation, or her own spirit-filled insight, Anna recognized the gift, wrapped in cloth before her.
Much like Simeon, Anna had pursued a lifetime of devotion. But unlike Simeon, her devotion was wrapped in deep grief. She carried the weight of grief when her husband died and left her to survive for a lifetime alone. In her loneliness, Anna turned to a life of worship. The text says, “she never left the temple, but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying”. When life fell in around her, she worshiped. And her life of worship empowered her gift of prophecy.
It is no insignificant matter that Anna is named in this holy account as prophet and preacher. Luke gives Anna value and voice by including her in the story, naming her heritage, and identifying her call. (As a side note, do not underestimate the power of a righteous man lifting women up as called and credible bearers of the gospel.)
A handful of female prophets shared places of influence in the Old Testament. But for hundreds of years, words of prophecy had been silent as the Hebrew nation waited in exile and expectation. 500 years would pass between the last prophecy of Malachi and the first prophecies of John the Baptist. In-between would stand Anna herself, among the first to experience the Messiah, see his worth, and declare his significance to those who would hear. Together, Simeon and Anna act as convincing witnesses to fulfilled prophecies.
Much like Simeon, Anna’s life of deep devotion prepared her for divine opportunity. A life of worship has a way of doing that. The energy, clarity, and reality of God showing up becomes much more recognizable when we’ve pursued God’s presence daily, in worship. Because of her devotion, Anna was able to recognize God’s presence among them. And Anna’s response, though different from Simeon’s, is to tell everyone. Her response to meeting Jesus, to watching the Divine take on the frailty of the human condition, and enter a world of suffering, was to tell those who were waiting of his worth. Simeon’s life of devotion gave him the capacity to recognize the Messiah in his midst and revel in a promise fulfilled. Anna’s life of worship gave her the capacity to rejoice in the Messiah and reveal his worth to the world.
Truly experiencing God in a life of worship, always leads to the response of proclamation, of telling and testimony. After all, how do we keep the goodness of God to ourselves? How can we possibly taste the goodness of God and stay silent? Anna experienced overwhelming joy when she laid eyes on the Messiah; an experience that could not be contained, it had to be shared. And . . . she found healing in it.
Sometimes healing comes when we tell others where we’ve met God, when we speak of the hope that has carried us through, the promises that were fulfilled after longing, and the redemption that comes when our healing can begin healing in someone else. Part of why Gabe and I share our story, lay our wounds before the world, is when we share God at work in our pain, we’re reminded of God’s presence in every trial, and then—our declaration of that becomes possibility for someone else.
Anna’s grief turned to worship, her worship made way for divine revelation, the revelation made way for her prophecy, and prophecy turned her grief into redemption as she shared with the whole world the coming of the one who can heal any pain; even the pain of a people. I imagine that’s why Anna was able to declare Christ’s arrival so boldly. But I know that declaration makes redemption possible because I’ve experienced it. When God shows up to turn pain to peace, and despair to delight, you can’t help but join the chorus of prophets and preachers.
Almighty God, we join the historic chorus of prophets and preachers to declare your praise. We recognize that you, only you, can turn grief into great joy. Help us to embrace the patient pursuit of worship that will lead us to more of you, more experience of your presence; so that our life of worship will overflow to our public praise. In that offering, redeem our grief by using it for your glory. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Do you consider the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and devotion as acts of worship? If so, are you in pursuit of a life of worship, in such a way, that prepares you for recognizing heaven at work around you? Where may you need to invest your grief for transformation in worship? It may be, that as heaven meets you in worship, your grief just may find healing for joyful proclamation.
For the Awakening,