Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Patience of Anna

There are numerous “tests of faith” for true believers which weed out those who are genuine. In the past, "tests of faith" for women came in the form of back-breaking hard work, constant pregnancies, widowhood, poverty, bereavements, no legal rights and dying at forty.  Today, some Christian women think "the test" is living in Western society which seems focused on crushing spirituality, and those who value Truth. Perhaps, we have not seen anything yet? Perhaps, there are centuries of waiting to come...

True believers never despair.  They can can lie low for centuries, waiting, living in hidden expectation. I refer to the story of Anna in the Temple in Jerusalem in Luke 2.36.

“And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the Temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 36-38 KJV)

The Bible says that Anna was a “prophetess”, which means a mouthpiece of God. She lived, probably in great poverty in the hostile Hellenistic world. The Hellenistic which was a decadent blend of materialism, sexual license and brutality, in which signs of weakness (and women) were utterly despised. It was such an a horrible place that people would happily die for Christ and his teaching.  It laughed at chastity, purity and true spirituality. The truth and purity of Christianity came as a blessed relief from its many cruelties and shocking decadence.

Calvin writes about Anna being one of the few who had faith, which was at this point “expectation”.

“For this reason, the historian mentions Anna's age, gives her the designation of prophetess, and, thirdly, bears a remarkable testimony to her piety, and to the holiness and chastity of her life. These are the qualities that justly give to men weight and estimation”.  

There was another hidden thing that gave Anna weight. Her clan was the tribe of “Asher” which came from the same home town as Jesus. This fact confounds the false claim of the Pharisees, driven by jealousy of Jesus, who said that Galilee could not produce prophets. Luke’s answer to them is  “Wrong! Galilee produced prophets : female prophets - and now Jesus”. Indeed, it is clear in Simeon and Anna, that they represent the faithful of both sexes, who remained, if very few in number.

Did Anna sit and bemoan the unspeakable state of the Hellenistic world? It does not seem that she did.  She knew the world was a passing show. Instead, she was fuelled by an invisible light, burning bright inside: the light of hope fuelled by living as close to God as someone could, before Christ.  In fact, it says she almost lived in the Temple, close to the Arc of the Covenant and Holy of Holies.

She attended all the Temple services and fasted twice a week for the eight decades of her widowhood.  Anna had had a husband, once but her marriage was long over, around 80BC long i.e. before the Battle of Actium!  

Anna did not let world politics, battles, the fall of kings, or corrupt Emperors get her down. Nothing would interrupt her focus on God, her decades of prayers, her fastings. She may have felt she would prevail on God to send His saving Messiah, by sheer prayer-power.

Then, as her great reward, she was given this wonderful moment of wisdom enabling her to discern the tiny baby, in the throng. She uttered the words she had been waiting to say for eight decades: “Thanks be to God! (for sending Messiah)”. Then she told people about him, those were who were waiting for “the redemption of Jerusalem”, the celestial City of God.

For Anna, the endurance and waiting, the testing decades of nothing happening, were washed away in an instant, and she was filled with huge joy. 

God had been faithful. He had done it.  The world was saved....

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