So, you’ve done it, graduates! You’ve completed what could possibly be one of the most challenging and important seasons of your life. You are about to enter a new environment and a set of new opportunities. It will be exciting but it will also bring great challenges. During this season...
It’s almost Thanksgiving, a day when we will give thanks around a table overflowing with turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and other goodies. No gifts. No hype. No countdown, unless you’re the one hosting a large crowd for the day, and even that is a joy.
It’s a bit distressing to wake up the day after Thanksgiving, with memories of pumpkin pie still lingering, and find that the world has flipped the switch to incessant Christmas shopping. Well, most of the world. Not me.
The story of a little-known woman in the Bible is a hinge of a different sort between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her name is Anna, and the picture of Anna’s life comes to us from the Gospel of Luke in just three verses, Luke 2:36-38:
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
‘That very hour” was the likely the moment that Simeon was praising God for the gift of seeing Jesus, salvation for the Gentiles and for Israel. Anna entered that God-orchestrated scene and added her thanksgiving to Simeon’s prophecy and praise.
Anna’s story teaches us three things, not the least of which is gratitude.
1. God delights to use people who the world thinks are nobodies.
Anna was recognized as a prophetess. That in itself is enough to make her fascinating. Messages from the Lord were not at all common during the days when Anna lived, and a prophetic word brought through a woman was rarer still.
Luke recorded the name of her father, Phanuel, and that she was from the tribe of Asher. Asher was one of the northern tribes that was lost during the exile, but Anna apparently kept a record of her lineage. Israel had lost track of the northern tribes, but God had not.
Anna was probably not seen as terribly important by the people of her day. She was a woman from the lost tribe of Asher, after all. But that didn’t bother God.
God delights to use people who the world thinks are nobodies.
2. Age is of no consequence to God.
Anna had been a widow for the better part of her 84 years during a time when widows had no means of support besides their children or charity. We’re not told whether Anna had any children, but my guess is that she was alone in the world. It is possible that she lived at the temple because she had no place else to live.
No matter, she made the best of her years by worshiping, praising, and honoring God all of her days.
Age is of no consequence to God. He can use any of us at any age. Don’t count yourself out because you are too young or too old.
3. God gives us reason for thanksgiving.
The first thing Anna did, when she came across Simeon and Jesus, was to give thanks to God for his Son. She understood what Jesus meant for the people of Jerusalem, for she told everyone who was waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem that the Redeemer had arrived.
What a day this must have been for Anna! She had been worshiping and praying for most of her days, and she had been in the company of God Almighty on a regular basis. On this day she was given the great honor of being in the company of the One who came to redeem Jerusalem and the world.
Anna gave thanks.
To read that she “gave thanks” seems a bit underwhelming for such an immense privilege. Anna knew Who she had seen, and she knew the One to whom she had to express her gratitude. Perhaps a simple thank you was enough between Anna and God, for they were close.
Anna then shared the good news with others who were “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” And Luke shared Anna’s story in his gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the One who was born for the Redemption of the world.
I pray that you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, and that when you wake up to stories and scenes of Christmas shopping that you will take your cue from Anna. May you give thanks to God for sending his Son, Jesus, to be born on that first Christmas, and then speak about Jesus to anyone who needs to hear about him.