Luke 2:36-38 “There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then she 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 (Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus) at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel”
Anna was a senior citizen. The Bible considers long life a blessing, but old age brings its own set of burdens. Years of wear and tear on the body take their toll. I remember my grandfather going to the doctor because of joint pain when he was in his 70’s. The doctor told him: “Marvin, you’ve worked hard all your life. You are simply worn out at the seams.” At some point in time you start to realize that the other members of your generation are disappearing. Loneliness becomes more common.
We don’t know how Anna felt about her age. We do know that more serious hardships were a feature of her youth. She was widowed after only seven years of marriage. She may have buried her first and only husband in her twenties. Did she see herself a widow so soon? Was this what she expected her family life to be?
For Anna, widowhood brought another struggle. There was no regular employment for women living in First-Century Israel. The law of Moses provided some kind of welfare for widows and orphans, but having enough to eat could be a daily struggle.
We see nothing to criticize about Anna as she fought through life’s hardships. But for ourselves, we need to understand the temptations that go along with a life that falls far short of our hopes and expectations. These can be spiritually deadening.
A cultivated sense of bitterness can make us very unpleasant people to be around. Worse yet, it flies in the face of God’s word: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It is hard to place trust in God, or feel love for him, while we are busy being bitter about our burdens.
Another dangerous trap is self-pity. It is a waste of our time and energy to spend them in endless reruns of how hard our life has become. Like bitterness, focusing on self erodes our faith, chokes our love for others, and opens the door to other sins.
Anna didn’t spend her long years of widowhood sulking. She spent them in worship. Every day found her at the temple until as late in the evening as they would let her stay.
Who really benefits when we spend time in God’s service at worship? Does the Lord need anything from us? He is not, as Phil Donahue once suggested, “An egomaniac who constantly needs to be adored.” Worship benefits us. It keeps us in touch with what matters: We have a God who loves us so much he made himself our Savior. He let himself be tortured to death to free us from sin and deliver us from death. Our lives are meaningful because Jesus considered them meaningful enough to redeem them for himself.
There is another place in God’s service that Jesus makes our life meaningful. That is in our life of witness. “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 Israel.” Redemption is one of those loaded words we hardly think about. It speaks about a price paid to set us free. Anna recognized Jesus as our Redeemer–the one who would pay the price, the Lamb of Sacrifice who sets us free from sin’s guilt and power. Straight from her heart Anna gave her little witness to all who would listen. This baby is redemption sent from God. He pays the price to take our sins away.
What would make your life meaningful? Inventing a cure for cancer? Making a billion dollars? Feeding people in a third world country? What about sharing the love of Jesus with your own children? What about helping a friend to know Jesus as his Savior? What about being part of an effort to send missionaries to people who haven’t heard the gospel before? When we serve God by spreading the good news of redemption to others, we are making an eternal difference in their lives. And our own words about Christ and cross and sins forgiven come back to feed our own faith as well.
Your life is meaningful, child of God. Jesus makes it that way.