Whilst Simeon was embracing the Son of God in his arms, an aged widow named Anna drew alongside the small group. She, too, had been drawn to this spot to witness the remarkable pronouncements of salvation and glory announced by the Father through Simeon.

It is interesting to note that in contrast to Simeon, Luke doesn’t record anything that Anna said. Instead he provides a thought-provoking description of who she was.

Anna is the abbreviated form of Hannah and means “favoured, gracious”. Like her namesake in the Old Testament she was a very faithful woman. Mary had quoted Hannah’s words six months or so before in her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) and now a woman bearing that same name appears beside them and joins in the joyful news. The original Hannah was also a prophetess who spoke of the change her son Samuel would bring to Israel and predicted the imminent arrival of God’s anointed (1 Sam 2:1-10). Now here is her namesake in the temple courts demonstrating the same faith and joining in with the same message—God’s anointed is in our midst.

The record makes a studied connection between the arrival of young Samuel in the temple and the arrival of God’s anointed Son amongst the nation.

The births of both Samuel and Jesus were miraculous, and both were accompanied with great thanksgiving (1 Sam 1:6,19; 2:1; Luke 1:30-38).

Mary quoted from Hannah’s song, drawing inspiration from her faith and foresight (Luke 1:46-55).

Both Hannah and her namesake Anna had to endure corrupt priesthoods as they delivered their prophecies.

Both Samuel and Jesus were presented before God by their parents (1 Sam 1:22,24; Luke 2:22), who received a blessing during their visits to the house of God (1 Sam 2:20; Luke 2:34).

With their parents not present, both Samuel and Jesus were active at the house of God at relatively early ages (1 Sam 3; Luke 2:42-49).

Both were said to have “grown in favour with God and man” as they grew and developed (1 Sam 2:26; 3:19; Luke 2:40,52).

We see a replay of the events of Samuel’s life in the life of Jesus. He was to be the new force that would change the dynamics of Israel’s national life for ever.

Anna is described as “a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity” (Luke 2:36). She is like Miriam and Deborah and Huldah (Exod 15:20; Jud 4:4; 2 King 22:14)—leaders of the women, encouraging them to yearn for deliverance in Israel.

As a prophetess, she most likely taught women in the temple courts. We can imagine faithful women arriving during times of worship and seeking her out to learn more about the things of God. It is wonderful, too, to see God at work in the years leading up to the arrival of His Son, because we find a woman recognised as a prophetess at a time when no man is recognised as a prophet. In bearing the name of the mother of the founder of the school of the prophets, she was one who was readily identified with the wisdom of God’s Word.

Her husband is not named, but her father, Phanuel, is. This name is equivalent to the Hebrew Peniel—the face of God. Anna was about to see God’s face reflected in His Son, as it were. Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel face to face at Peniel (cp Gen 32:30), so the people would wrestle with the identity of the Son of God throughout his brief period of ministry among them.

Anna is also one of the few people in the New Testament linked to a tribe. She was from Asher, a name which means happy (cp Gen 30:13) and that most likely describes her outlook. She is aged and frail yet happy in her life of service despite losing her husband at such a young age. Whilst she had no association with the tribe of Levi, she is busy working amongst the people of God in the courts of God’s house. Asher, as a tribe, had a chequered history (Jud 5:17; 6:35; 2 Chron 30:11) and was considered to be one of the less important tribes; but here is Anna, faithfully toiling in obscurity, but fully recognised by Almighty God.

She was advanced in years but age was no barrier to her faithful service. Luke also informs us that she married in purity, but sadly her husband died after seven years of marriage. Moreover, she was a widow for 84 years. If she married at 16 (which was not unusual at the time) then she would be about 107 years old! She would have witnessed the turbulent history of the Hasmoneans and the swift conquest by Rome, followed by temple riots and the like. She was, in a word, a survivor.

Now why is Luke interested in all this detail? Well, Anna stands as a representative woman. There were many things in Anna’s life which were disappointing. She lost her husband at a very early age, and the implication is that she had no children, as Luke makes no mention of this. She realised that she could not be the woman whom God may have used to bring forth the Son of God into the world. Instead of seeking another husband, she became determined to give her life to God in the temple. That she was allowed to occupy one of the temple apartments speaks volumes about her character.

Everything about Anna is linked with the number seven. She was married for seven years and was a widow for 84 years (12 parcels of seven). She “departed not from the temple”, adds Luke. She resided there! She had made the house of God her home and its services her life-long devotion. How she was supported or exactly where she lived, we don’t know, but she is portrayed as dwelling in the house of the Lord like the faithful of old (Psa 27:4; 65:4; 84:4).

So what was her service to God? She is surrounded by male Levites who officiated in the temple services, so she can’t contribute to that work. Instead, she gives herself in spiritual service, fasting, teaching other like-minded women and praying constantly. She is like Esther and Daniel who served with prayers and fastings (Est 4:15-16; Dan 1:12). She is a true widow whose focus is on praying for others (1 Tim 5:5). It may have been exhausting for her to go out at night, but she was there “night and day” (Luke 2:37).

She is presented by Luke in a wonderful way. Luke could have easily recorded every one of her words like he did Simeon’s; but this is not his purpose. He is depicting her as a widow who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. He has already set the scene with Simeon’s allusions to the servant prophecies mentioned in Isaiah (Isa 42:6-7; 49:6; 60:1-3,19). And it is in Isaiah that we see a widow without children (Isa 54:4). She is a youthful wife (Isa 54:4,6) and she is like a watchman looking for Jerusalem’s redemption (Isa 52:8-9). This widow represents the remnant of faith down through the ages who have been seeking God’s salvation. This is the group Anna represents in type. And God was now going to respond to their collective prayers and introduce to them His Son who would provide that long sought-after redemption.

The record states that Anna “gave thanks like-wise unto the Lord”. The Greek word for “gave thanks” only occurs here and it means “to confess in turn, to agree mutually in turn, to make a compact, to acknowledge, to return thanks”. Whatever she said was an amalgam of many things. It was part acknowledgement, part confession, part agreement, part thankfulness. She breathed the same sentiments and hope that were expressed by Simeon. The Diaglott translates Luke 2:38 this way: “And she, this the hour, standing by, acknowledged the Lord, and spoke about him to all those looking for redemption in Jerusalem.” She recognised that this child was her Lord, the one spoken of in the prophets. She confessed her inadequacies. She acknowledged that God was once more at work in Israel and expressed her deepest gratitude for His mercy.

So overwhelming was this moment that she couldn’t refrain from speaking to all those who were part of that small remnant of faith; those looking for the fulfilment of God’s promises; that unrecognised group of faithful people who were waiting in hope. This was God’s answer to their prayers and the message was relayed from an aged prophetess eagerly spreading the word of salvation to that circle of friends who joined her in that burning hope. We can imagine her going from house to house witnessing to what she had heard and seen. She spoke with them about the young Messiah and passed the message on—redemption is coming!

So, what lessons can we glean from the example of Anna? Firstly, we are never too old to serve God day and night! She was not alone, as many ageing in our society are today. She actively sought out those of like-mind and spoke to them about redemption, about God’s promises and about His Son. She was aged, yet she was alert, scripturally-focused, service-oriented and enthusiastic about the Word of God. This was her contribution to the work of God amongst the household of God. By fasting, she went without so that others might benefit. She constantly prayed for others, believing that God would help those for whom she prayed. She spake often to others, comforting and enriching them in the things of God (Mal 3:16). These are the elements of faithful service in the household of God. We may feel that we cannot physically contribute much to the work of God, but, like Anna, we can all pray for each other.