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.”
People often assume that Simeon, the man who found the baby Jesus in the temple just before Anna, was an elderly man, but Luke doesn’t tell us this directly. About Anna there is no doubt. She was either eighty-four, or she had lived eighty-four years after her husband died. That would make her about one hundred and five years old. Either way, her age was outstanding for that time. Few people lived much beyond forty years.
The Bible considers long life a blessing, but old age brings its own set of burdens. There is the wear and tear that comes with a high mileage body. In his seventies, my grandfather once went to the doctor because of joint pain. The doctor said, “Marvin, you’ve worked hard all your life. You are simply worn out at the seams.” Aches and pains that limit what we can do are a growing reality for us with each passing year.
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. If Jewish girls got married sometime in their mid-teens, then she was only in her early twenties when she buried her first and only husband. Did she see herself a widow so soon? Was this what she expected her family life to be?
Age and hardships may tempt us to lose sight of the real benefit of Christian faith and life. Some Christians wallow around in their earthly mud so much that they cannot rise above it to appreciate the spiritual blessings our Savior has given. They lean away from God toward agnosticism. A kind of spiritual hardening sets in that struggles to acknowledge that the Lord is good. Life seems meaningless if we do not properly value the heavenly life to come.
Anna was not ignorant of the hardships she had to suffer, and faith in Jesus does not make our earthly problems suddenly disappear. But Jesus does make our lives meaningful in spite of them. Like Anna, we can live our lives in God’s service. “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”
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. Here she fasted, not in the work-righteous way of the Pharisees. She fasted sincerely and voluntarily so that that time could be given to serving God. Here she prayed. Here her prophetic gifts were available to other women who undoubtedly sought her wise counsel about God’s will. Her life found meaning as she waited for the day she would meet her Savior face to face.
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.” Anna knew that this was not another cute baby brought to the temple for the customary sacrifices. She spoke about this 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 would be the price to set 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 we can’t to take our sins away.
What would make your life meaningful? Inventing a cure for cancer? Making a billion dollars? Feeding people in some far away 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 the cross, about sins forgiven and death defeated, about grace and peace and joy and life through Jesus come back to feed our own faith as well. Your life is meaningful, child of God. Jesus makes it that way.