It was a brisk spring morning and Anna’s aging bones were reminding her of her advanced years. After her daily ritual bath at the temple, required by all who wanted to enter the temple courts to worship, she ascended the steps toward the Court of Women. She caught herself grinning and almost skipping with some unusual sense of anticipation. She wondered what had stirred her soul on that particular morning.
While thinking through the past few days and considering what lay ahead for this new day, she settled into her favorite spot on the bench in the corner of the temple court that was bathed in the morning sunlight. The wisps of sunbeams floated in between the tall marble columns surrounding the large platform on which the glistening white temple stood.
From this vantage point, she watched hurried priests go by and people delivering their sacrificial offerings to the priests at the next gate. She had noticed the elderly Simeon was out early this fine morning. She had not seen him for a few days. He was always a welcome sight. As she passed the time, she especially loved to see young Jewish families showing their children the splendor of the temple. She remembered with bittersweetness her brief married life, which had ended more than six decades earlier when her husband died unexpectedly. Ever since then, she had spent more time in the temple courts than in her home.
The rhythm of her days was comforting, but never boring. She had long established a habit of fasting several days a week and her prayers were frequent and fervent. Her daily presence at the temple had established her reputation as a respected prophet who helped people understand God’s activity in their lives and how God’s mercy and grace was with them always. Many people sought her wisdom. She could share God’s truth with great conviction because she was now in her 80s! God had been so merciful to her as a widow all these years, providing for her, and giving her such a life of peace and joy in spite of the oppressive culture King Herod had wrought on her people, the Jews. She would bring her mending projects with her and about once a week, usually on market day, and would gather with other women friends in a tucked-away corner on the expansive porch where they could spend an afternoon visiting and sharing the latest news from their families.
Resting her head against the cool stone wall behind her bench, she closed her eyes and took in all the sounds: the laughter of some nearby children, the heated discussions between teachers of the law, and the clinking of the coins being dropped in the offering urns. Then she caught the sweet sound of an infant cooing along with the turtledoves. She opened her eyes and saw a young couple with a babe in arms approaching the elderly and wise Simeon who seemed overjoyed to see this couple. Anna wondered if they were friends of his.
Simeon had been around the temple almost as long as Anna, but not quite as often. Anna watched as a very young mother, still looking a little tired, gently placed her infant into the waiting arms of Simeon. Anna stood from her bench to move in a little closer and leaned on the marble column nearest the scene in front of her. Simeon was obviously enraptured by the child. Anna hadn’t seen Simeon smile like that in ages. Then, quite unlike Simeon’s normal behavior of softspoken stillness, he raised the infant above his head and twirled around in sheer delight. The couple stood there mesmerized at the old man’s confidence in handling their tiny infant. The father put down the small cage he was carrying that held the two turtledoves for their sacrifice of thanksgiving for this firstborn son apparently ready to catch the infant dangling in midair.
As a gleeful Simeon lowered the child from overhead, the sunlight rested on the baby’s face and Anna gasped with the fresh awareness of God’s presence. She could stand still no longer. She rushed to Simeon’s side to get a closer look at the baby. Simeon held the baby so Anna could see his tiny face and introduced her to the new parents, Joseph and Mary from Nazareth. Anna exchanged happy smiles with the couple as she put a supportive arm around the young mother. She marveled at the youth of the mother and the questioning face of a more mature father.
Anna then heard Simeon say with his face toward heaven, “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word, because my eyes have seen your salvation. You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples. It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel.”
Anna glanced back and forth between the joy-filled face of Simeon and the somewhat startled faces of the baby’s parents. She was beginning to understand that unexpected skip in her step earlier that morning.
Simeon gently returned the squirming infant to his father’s arms and then gave a firm, congratulatory squeeze to the new father’s shoulders. As he raised his face toward the heavens once more, he spoke a blessing over the young family. As he lowered his eyes, they met the warm, date-colored eyes of the young mother and he spoke softly and determinedly directly to her saying, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” Simeon paused, his demeanor changed and Anna watched a tear stream down the weathered face of Simeon. He swallowed, took a deep breath and said these final words to the strong young Mary before him, “And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.” Mary put her hand to her mouth and her knees buckled. Anna’s arm steadied the young woman as the concerned father held tightly to the baby.
After a moment of composure, Anna asked Mary’s permission to hold the infant. Mary nodded. As Joseph handed the baby to Anna, he proudly said, “His name is Jesus.” Anna brought the infant close and drank in the sweet aroma of fresh baby skin. She caressed his head and gazed into his eyes squinting in the sunlight. She uncovered his hands and feet and let his new little fingers wrap around a finger on her aged hand. That unusual feeling of anticipation came upon her again but more intensely as if a warm cloak was enveloping her. Her voice lifted to the heavens and she praised God for the answered prayer she was holding in her arms. She knew full well that this tiny infant would grow into the One who would redeem Israel. After a few moments of sheer joy in the presence of this infant and his parents, she gave a whimpering Jesus back to Mary. Joseph picked up the cage with the turtledoves and they said their goodbyes.
Anna stood there with Simeon quietly trying to memorize every detail of the moment. After a few exchanges of utter amazement at the blessing they had just experienced, it was time for Simeon to join the men gathering in the inner court to worship where women were not allowed.
As a prophet, Anna knew her task ahead of her: to proclaim to all who would listen that the redemption Israel had so long awaited was at hand—the Messiah had been born! She had a renewed spirit and a new joy to share!
I encourage you to read the biblical account of Anna’s experience in Luke 2:21-38. While I added some fictitious details, what I did not change is the fact that Anna was the first named prophet (male or female) in scripture who actually saw the Christ child and then went about telling others about his arrival. God chose a woman prophet to be the first prophet to proclaim the Messiah’s arrival. Sometimes, a woman’s voice is the best choice to announce that God is with us!
(Note: this is my imagined version of the scene when Simeon and Anna met the Christ child. For another, more practical description, see my previous blog post about Anna from last December.)
Join in the conversation by adding to the Comments section below. When did God choose a woman’s voice to announce something to you?
The photo is of a stained glass window (1890) in Saint Albans English church (Copenhagen) of the “Nunc Dimittis” scene when Simeon and Anna recognize the Christ child. The photo was taken by Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons