top of page
  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Anna the Anticipator

Last time I spoke, we took a close look at Zechariah’s words prior to the birth of Jesus. Zechariah was forced into 9 months of isolation because he failed to believe the word from the angel that said, his wife Elizabeth would be pregnant with John the Baptist, and she, in her old age. The angel Gabriel struck Zechariah with dumbness and perhaps deafness too, leaving him confined in silence. We remarked about how well he used those 9 months and, the evidence of it when his voice was restored. A song of praise about the Messiah rolled off his tongue as soon as it was loosened.

Well, this morning I want us to consider another character wrapped up with the birth of Jesus. Her name was Anna and she also had been subjected to a type of isolation for a long time.

Anna was isolated We’re told in verse 36 that she was a woman who had been married for a brief period – just 7 years - and then her husband had died, leaving her a widow. It is possible that she had married her husband late in life. That might account for the brevity of their marriage. But the culture of the day makes it much more likely that Anna had been a widow for a long time. Perhaps even as long as 50 or 60 years.

The apostle Paul in his first letter to Timothy makes some remarks about widows in the context of the early church. Here’s what he says in verse 5: “The widow who is really in need and left all alone (in this year of pandemic, we’d use the term ‘isolated’) – the widow who is really in need and left isolated – puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and ask God for help”.

Now I draw your attention to v.38 of our text where we’re told Anna worshipped ‘night and day, fasting and praying’. When Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, in all likelihood he had Anna in mind as the example of the widow in isolation and, what happens in a godly widow when that kind of need is encountered.

Anna was Godly What we know about Anna from these few short verses is very revealing. Not only do we know that she was a needy, isolated widow, we know she was ‘very old’; we know she was holy spirit in-dwelt and able to prophesy; we know she was totally devoted – ‘never leaving the temple’; and we know she was Godly – she fasted regularly and she prayed night and day. But underneath all of this she was – and it would seem with her, a group of others too – looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (v.38).

Children and young people know what looking forward to something significant feels like, given the season that we’re in. I guess the days can’t quite pass quickly enough in anticipation of the arrival of Christmas day. Heart and soul yearning for the day of days to arrive – for the gifts to be revealed. It’s a special feeling and quite unlike any other. I think I just about remember it - even though it was my fortieth birthday yesterday!!

Anna was waiting Well, Anna was waiting for a gift too. A gift from God. She was longing with bated breath for the arrival of a present from heaven. This is what Luke calls the present, ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’. What Anna probably had in mind was a very precious promise from God to her people recorded in Isaiah chapter 40. The promise went something like this: Tell Jerusalem that the years of her hard service are over, that her sin has been paid for...You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up and do not be afraid, say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’” (v.2 & 9).

Anna witnessed So, here’s the scene: Unbeknown to Anna a baby has been born to Mary – a unique baby. The messiah spoken of in Isaiah 9. At the time appointed by the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph have brought the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord as every first born Jewish male child had to be. At that very moment in the temple courts, having been moved by the holy spirit, a righteous and devout man called Simeon takes Jesus up his arms and praises God saying ‘my eyes have seen your salvation’. And there’s Anna, also in the temple courts – because she never left them (v.37). She hears Simeon’s adoration of this child, and she knows this is the fulfilment of Isaiah 40. Right here before her very eyes, the very thing she had been praying and fasting for relentlessly – perhaps for as long as 60 years – the Lord has just revealed to her in her presence! She approaches Mary and Joseph with the child and, giving thanks to God, she speaks to all who were looking forward with her to the redemption of Jerusalem about this child – the messianic deliverer had finally come to liberate Israel. Behold Judah, ‘here is your God’! It is a scintillating moment in the record of Luke.

Anna was desirous Anna (and Simeon) are characterised by a very strange approach to life on earth. As you read the account, it seems like every day they woke up yearning and desiring to receive a promised gift from God. Whist the world around was trying its best to better their lives, these two –

and seemingly a small handful of others too – were devoting themselves to the promise of a heavenly intervention. They evidently believed that what God had promised was more wonderful, desirable and valuable than anything their world could offer them. We know that because, it takes significant effort to better yourself in this life – yet they spent their time in the temple. Not a good way to make money.

The reason Jesus warns against the love of money is not that the coins are so delightful to look at or touch. It’s because the coins have intrinsic worth to obtain for us things we want. But what Anna wanted couldn’t be obtained with coins. The currency had to be of a different type. Her currency was prayer because God loves to hear and answer prayer. And her currency was fasting, because she wanted God to know that to have the Messiah arrive on the scene was to her better than food itself. That’s why she chose the sanctuary over the shop. It’s why she chose supplication over stuff.

To Anna, nothing could match the enticing sweetness of the gift of the Messiah. Every day she woke up with renewed anticipation – ‘today might be the day that the long-awaited Messiah arrives’. And she’d fast for the day. And she’d pray into the night. And for sixty plus years it seemed like the Lord wasn’t answering her prayers. So, were here reverent prayers useless? Was her fasting unseen? Well, she never gave up.

Anna received Verse 37 says, ‘she never left the temple’. And then one day, it happened. A child came into the temple courts – nothing to distinguish it from any other child. But old Simeon took him up in his arms and by the power of the Spirit of God spoke unearthly words about him. Anna’s Christmas arrived right there on that day. The gift of God entered into her sphere. Her prayers had been answered. Her fasting had been seen by God.

So right at this juncture I just want to say this: God does marvellous things for people who are persistently longing for him. God enters into the lives of people in profound and tangible ways when they keep going to him saying, ‘you O Lord, are more precious to me than all the silver this world can offer. And you Lord are sweeter to me than all the honey bees could possibly make’.

Little Abigail reminded me of that this week. I wonder how many of God’s good gifts we miss out on because we simply do not persist in prayer for them. The apostle James says, ‘you do not have because you do not ask God’ (Jam 4:2). Anna didn’t miss out because, she devoted herself to prayer. But there’s something even more significant about this than the gifts of God we might miss out on. And it’s this: All those gifts flow from the gift of gifts – the gift of Jesus.

Anna saw However much Anna could see about the significance of Jesus, we see more. This is a tangent, but I think it will be worthwhile.

700 years before Anna, Isaiah the prophet said that, ‘The redeemer would come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins’ (Isa 59:20). Then Jesus arrives on the scene, in Anna’s day and she is moved to give thanks for the ‘redeemer of Jerusalem’ who had finally arrived. And then, 30 years later, when Jesus had died, Luke tells us that some of his disciples were speaking with the risen Christ (though they didn’t know it) and they said to him, ‘haven’t you heard about the Christ? Our leaders handed him over to be crucified, but we had hoped’ – and then this remarkable phrase – we had hoped that he would be one who was going to redeem Israel’. There it is again.


The closest confidents of Jesus, after spending a lot longer with him than Simeon or Anna ever had, still thought Jesus was going to redeem Israel physically and we know that because, the reason they’re dismayed is, Jesus is dead (or so they thought – he’s actually alive and talking to them). And Jesus says, ‘Oh how foolish you are, and slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did the Messiah not have to suffer these things and then enter glory?’ (Luke 24:20-21 & 26)

So, that tangent is to say this: Jesus did not come to redeem the nation of Israel and set Jerusalem free. He came to create a spiritual nation of Israel by setting people free from their sins and, to create a new Jerusalem in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-24; Galatians 4:26; Revelation 21:2, 11). Even if Anna and Simeon got that reality better than Jesus’ disciples who had heard his ministry, then they still saw in misty shadows, in comparison with the 20- 20 vision we’ve got – and that has nothing to do with righteousness. I think Anna could have knocked my socks off in any midnight prayer meeting. I’d be dozing off all over the place, and she’d be pumping out prayer fuelled by matchless love for Jesus – I’m sure of it. It’s not because of a lack of righteousness, it’s because of a lack of revelation, that Anna saw more dimly than we do.

For this morning, we want to see how Jesus is the gift of gifts to a new Israel of God. And I want to show you from Romans where I think this is clearly seen.

A new Israel The flow of Paul’s argument is not easy to follow in Romans 5, but if you think of verses 13-16 as an expansion of what he says at the end of verse 12 about sin, then it will help you to see why we need to connect verse 17 to verse 12. So, I’m going to do that and read it, leaving out the verses between the second half of 12 through to 16. This is important. Here it is: Verse 12 – ‘Just as sin entered (important word) the world through one man (that’s Adam)’.

Now jump to the second half of verse 17 – how much more will those who receive (important word) God’s abundant provision (we might say gift) of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one-man Jesus Christ’. So here we have it: Sin entered into the world. Before, there wasn’t any sin and then suddenly, there was – because of Adam; because of one man. And because Adam sinned all sin. Sin became the dominant rule (that’s what reign means) in all our lives. We are all captive to sin. And sin leads to eternal death because God hates sin and punishes it. But, if sin entered into the world by the work of one man, then righteousness enters into world, also by one man. If you get righteousness, you get freedom from sin and therefore freedom from death. So, Paul in Romans 5 is saying, there came a time when righteousness entered into the world – before it wasn’t there, and then it was.

That means: If you have received Jesus as your righteousness - that is, if like Anna, you have longed for Jesus to come to you - then you have received God’s abundant provision of grace and the gift of righteousness that gives life. Sin brought death. But Jesus brings light and life to all people.

That’s what Jesus came into the world to achieve – not first and foremost the liberation of Israel from her oppressors, but the liberation of the new Israel of God from the rule and consequences of sin. Anna didn’t know the half of it – maybe. But she knew she loved God with all her heart and believed his promises. She knew that the promised Messiah was the glory of God and she longed to see it enter in. And when that child came on the scene, she rejoiced. Oh, how thankful she was.

Jesus enters in And, here we are, with the full revelation of God; beholding the glory of the good news that Jesus

entered into our world for us who are eagerly desiring him in our lives. He lived to die, that we might live and not die! Praise be to God for that gift of gifts! Oh, how good Christmas is. Is there better news in all the world, than that Jesus entered in? Something had to enter in to our lives to overpower that infinite imposter, sin. And Jesus did just that. Thanks be to God for him! Are you redeemed this morning? By Jesus, from sin? If you’re not, don’t stop yearning in your heart for the Messiah to come to you. He will come. He will not resist your prayers. Take a leaf out of Anna’s book and get serious with God. Show him you love him more than whatever is the best thing to you, by giving that thing up for a bit. That will give you space to focus your attention on praying for Jesus to enter into your life. And he will come.

Everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks find; and to one who knocks the door will opened (Luke 11:10) and Jesus will come in. You will have a day like Anna had – when asking will give way to receiving the greatest gift of all.

I think that some of you may even have received God’s gift of Jesus this year – if so then this year is indeed, the best of all years. I doubt Anna lived many more years after that one, but I bet not a single one of her many years compared with that year she met her long-awaited messiah.

Sure, this year of ours has been tough. Anna knew what it was like to have to tough it out in isolation, but what a year it was when Jesus showed up in her life. May it be so for all of us here this morning and in this year of 2020.

May the Lord bless his word to us. Amen.



bottom of page