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Dec 29, 2021

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then 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 at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 36-38)

 

There was a law in Israel, it shows up a couple times in Deuteronomy and it goes like this: “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 19:15).

In Luke’s gospel and in the book of Acts, as well as in other places scattered throughout the New Testament, you’ll find this wisdom in play.  As these writers seek to establish the truth and validity of their witness to Jesus they often give not one, but two testimonies.  Luke has a special twist on this theme.  He will often ensure gender parity in his slate of witnesses so that we will hear from both a man and a woman.  This is one of the first instances of this theme at play in Luke’s gospel that doesn’t come from the family of Jesus or John themselves.  Remember too, that this pair of witness show up in the section of chapter 2 that’s all about righteous law-keeping at the centre of Israel’s life in the Temple. 

So we meet Simeon and hear him praise God, bless, and testify to Mary and Joseph about their son who is the salvation of Israel.  Then we meet Anna too, who also came “up to them at that very moment.” 

While Simeon’s words are directed to God and to Mary and Joseph, Anna’s words are directed to the people.  Simeon is noted to be a righteous and devout man, but Anna is acclaimed to be a prophet.  Simon does all the speaking, or at least all the speech that’s quoted, but Anna appears to be the one even more significantly at the heart of Israel’s faith. 

“She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”  And she was a prophet: one called by God to minister the word—both God’s word to his people and the people’s words to God.  More than that though, Anna had long been recognized by the people and by the Temple authorities themselves as someone called to this work.  As we will discover later in the gospels, one does not just mill around in the Temple claiming to be a prophet without the permission of the religious authorities.  The Temple guards knew she was there and the priests did too.  Her presence there for so many long years speaks to their affirmation and authorization of her role as a prophet among the people. 

So it is Anna—and not Simeon—who speaks to the people about this child.  We may often think of Anna as just this cute, busy-body of an old lady who flits about, babbling excited niceties with all the passers by.  “Oh look at the cute baby!  He’s gunna save us all, eh!”  But no.  That is not the picture. 

Anna is introduced with gravity in the same way any prophet is introduced with a pedigree when we first meet them.  Isaiah, son of Amoz.  Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah.  Anna, daughter of Penuel of Asher.  She is a prophet in the line of prophets.  She has been acclaimed as such by the people and their leaders, and as a pillar of 84 years in the Temple, she speaks as one with authority.  Not only that, but from long years of ministry, she knows which Temple goers are looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.  It is to these faithful in Israel that the word of the Lord from Anna comes.  “Behold the child of the promise: your redemption draws nigh.” 

Israel’s ancient faith, full of memory and faithfulness is witnessed to by Anna of the prophets and Simeon of the faithful people of God.  Both of them have remembered well and reflected long on God’s word and promises—throughout their lifetimes.  And now, by their dual testimony they witness to God’s doing of a new thing through this child that is firmly anchored in Israel’s past and that fully matches Israel’s future hope. 

It takes long years marinating in the word, rituals, and gatherings of God and his people to come to a faith like that.  We are invited by the stories of Anna and Simeon to do just that though.  To remain in the church, to remain in the scriptures, to remain in conversation with God in prayer long enough for him to do his long work in us of shaping, in Christ, both our memory and our hope.