Anna: Worshipful Waiting

We’ve just pulled through the longest night of the year. In fact, as I type, the last dregs of darkness are still swilling around me, reluctantly retreating as the sun pushes past the horizon, signaling the start of another winter day. December, with all it’s waiting, can feel quite stark.

This pre-Christmas stretch is known world-over as Advent (latin for ‘the Coming’) and it is all about waiting. Advent is a built-in calendar reminder of the silent period between Malachi and Matthew. The prophets had gone quiet. Their promises nearly forgotten. And yet, on dark and cold night a couple thousand years ago, the sky erupted with angelic song and a salvation announcement. We wait ceremoniously now, standing in quiet camaraderie with the faithful folks before us. The Savior has already lived and died and rose again, paying the price for our sin with His sacrifice. And still, we wait through this Advent season, recalling His first coming and anticipating His second.

There’s a woman named Anna who spent her entire adult life waiting. She is our last lady of Christmas and the kind of woman we’d all like to be one day. Anna’s brief account has a lot to teach us about receiving Christ rightly.

“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 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 Israel.” (Luke 2:36-39 NIV)

There’s an entire life packed tight into these sentences: Anna was a female prophet (kind of a unicorn in the New Testament). She was a descendent of a worshiper (her father’s name meant ‘face of God’). She had been widowed after just seven years of marriage, and it seems they had no surviving children. At life’s most critical crossroad, Anna emigrated to the house of God.

Anna’s ministry was born of tragedy. Where others may have wallowed or given in to their sorrow, Anna chose instead to give herself over to God. She wasn’t just occupying a pew or consuming resources, she was serving continually. Scripture tells us day and night she worshiped. When the congregants had done their duty and pushed off after evening prayers, Anna remained, unwilling to let God go un-glorified. Anna’s worship and prayer was accompanied by fasting. She had determined that self-denial elevated the fervency of her prayers and the clarity of her request. 

We can presume Anna was also a regular thanks-giver because gratitude was her gut-reaction when she first perceived the presence of the Savior in the sanctuary. Anna recognized infant Jesus from across the room and she immediately poured out thanks and praise. This was a woman who had cultivated a heart of thanksgiving every step of the way, despite life’s difficulties and disappointments.

In her hard-fought-for spiritual maturity, Anna comprehended what most missed. Jesus was her hope: personally and corporately. Upon discovery, she confessed that He had come to rescue them. Then, she shared her story with others; publicly and prolifically. Anna understood that the gospel is not a private matter for personal embetterment, but an all-encompassing priority. 

Anna had prepared her whole life to be entrusted with that singular moment of divine revelation. When Jesus showed up on scene, her character was already proven. Temple-goers would have known who she was and received her testimony to be trustworthy. Her witness was credible.

We can be encouraged by Anna’s life of waiting, even reminded of the importance of stillness in our own story. So much of our unseen life prepares us for these sort of brief but mission-critical moments. Like an iceberg moving through arctic waters, Anna had spent years and years in the holy, hard work of personal sanctification. Her lifetime devotion to worship, prayer and fasting had readied her soul for just such an occasion: both the recognition and proclamation. Anna was a purified vessel, a tried and true voice, an apple of gold in a setting of silver for exactly God’s purpose.

It is paramount that we get this right: our private life prepares us for our public life, What we do with disappointment and heartache today makes a difference in the years and decades to come. We can cope, inebriate or ignore as the world implores, but only worship, prayer and fasting will ready us for the unrepeatable opportunity ahead.

When the unimaginable occurred, Anna intentionally moved closer to God. She decided to grow up when she surely would have preferred to stagnate in her sorrow. What we do with tragedy matters. How we choose to wait makes an eternal impact: on us, but also on the souls we come in contact with.

Anna took her hardship to the temple. She stepped nearer when she was most likely tempted to step away altogether. She waited well. She earnestly attended God in worship, prayer and fasting. And when her Kingdom moment came, she received it with joyful gratitude. Her life wasn’t wasted, but gloriously spent for the furthering of the Kingdom.

“For I am waiting for You, O Lord.” (Psalm 38:15 NLT)

Lord, please forgive us for our frustration in waiting. May we fight our tendency to retreat and instead choose to move even closer. Grow our discipline in worship, prayer and fasting. Purify our private life as we wait on Your return. Prepare us to publicly proclaim Your promises without hesitation. Amen.

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