“ 36 Now 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; 37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36–38, NKJV)
My observation over the years is that the role of seniors is one of the most neglected themes in the Christmas Story, and perhaps in the Christian preaching in this youth-orientated age.
About fifty-six years ago we bought a Kirby vacuum cleaner. It was made very well with plenty of metal and rubber with just a bit of plastic on it. We used Kirby for many years until it started to wheeze a bit and did not pick up too well. It was relegated to the basement for lighter work. Later there were a few more deteriorations and Kirby was then used in the garage, where it still operates today. The point is that though the Kirby does not work that well anymore, it is still a useful vacuum cleaner. This can be said of us old folks. We may not be able to get about as we did but we are still useful on a limited basis.
When we read about Simeon and Anna we are reminded of Psalm 92:12-14, “12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 Those who are planted in the house of the Lord Shall flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing. . .” (NKJV) The Psalmist is saying that we are still productive in our final years. Anna and Simeon showed that fact. As we read in Psalm 103:5, “The Lord “who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” It should be noted that the eagle replenishes its wing feathers each year. The eagle flies anew.
David in Psalm 71 expects that he will have a positive answer to this prayer. “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; Do not forsake me when my strength fails.” (Psalm 71:9). Isaiah says, “Even in your old age, I shall be the same, And even to your graying years I shall bear you.” (Isaiah 46:4) The great old Prophet proclaims that God does not leave us in the wilderness to die. That was what the pagan nations did with their senior citizens through the practice of patricide. (or consider the modern day practice of assisted suicide for old folks who have outgrown their usefulness to society?? – Ed.)
These Bible verses differ from 1) The attitude of the “Science of Biosis”. That is where people are frozen in order to await a cure for what killed them. The believer on the other hand looks for the resurrection of the dead. (see Job 19:25-27; Heidelberg Catechism # 57)
2) Ponce De Leon, who was seeking till his death the “Fountain of Youth”. He died and failed in his quest.
3) Our modern youth-driven culture where young folks think only of the present moment and not in decades. (I still ask young folks, “What and where do you think you will be in 10 years?”)
Now, our text does reflect the statement of Florence Nightingale, who at the age of sixty-five said, “Today, Oh Lord, let me dedicate this crumbling old woman to Thee.” Our text may also be reflected in the words of General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), who, is quoted as saying, “You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.” Anna was not an old geezer, an old fogy, an old fossil, a foolish old woman, but, a senior saint.
For what it is worth back in 2011 A.D., this old guy was looked on by a few high school youths as, “The oldest teenager in the high school” and “An 18 year old in a 78 year old body.”
We are to reflect 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “..we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day..” Yes, muscles may ache and old joints hurt. Life may slow down a bit, but inwardly we are “renewed every day.” Near my retirement from teaching at Mitchell Christian High School in 2011, a fine young Senior student stated that I “had lived a very full life.” I replied that I did not appreciated being put in the “past tense.” I told our young saint that Psalm 92 reminds old folks that no matter how old we are, we can continue to have a fresh and fruitful life (verses 12,14). Old folks have been “planted” in the rich soil of God’s vineyard and will continue to “bear much fruit” (John 15:5). There are times when old people realize that society often looks at them at 65 and older as being useless ends. The conversation ended with my young ward with the reminder that even youth are to remember that we are to be taught “to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:2)
The theme of Luke 2:36-38 is this: Anna was a Senior who was dedicated to God.
- Anna was a prophetess (vs. 36) Anna was a fore-teller and a forth-teller. She did so with spiritual insight into the Word and Who Jesus was. (She was like the evangelist Philip’s four unmarried daughters in Luke 21:9) A true prophet is one who, having received revelations of the mind and will of God, declares to others what has been received (Deuteronomy 18:18). The Apostle Paul regarded the gift of prophecy as being highly important (1 Corinthians 14:1).
Her name means “Grace.” Our Senior saint was a member of Asher, which has been called a “lost tribe of Israel.” Asher means “Happy.” The covenant with the listings of generations were very important to the Jews. Anna seems to be not only a dedicated covenant keeper, but endowed with a gracious, happy demeanor and message.
- Anna never lost hope over many, many years (vs. 36) She was very old. Anna is at least 84, if you take that figure as the sum given by Luke. (In fact there are some commentaries that say she could have been 106, but I prefer 84 years seeing I turn that age this year.) Psalm 90:10 would present the age of 84 as being very old. This saint was able to cope with a length of anguish and grief. Anna was also alone. Anna did not seem to “think old.” “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:9)
III. Anna never grew bitter in the face of sorrow (vs. 36) There is no unhappiness here. An interesting state of our day is that 66% of those 65 and older are happy with their lives, while those 18-39 are only 50% happy with their circumstances. We live in an age of dissatisfaction.
- Anna never ceased to worship her God (vs. 37) She never missed a worship service. Anna was taken care of by the temple officials. That was called “a
widow that was a widow indeed.” (1 Timothy 5:5,16; Acts 6:1ff.) “Now she who is a widow indeed, and who has been left alone has fixed her hope on God and continues in treaties and prayers night and day.” Remember that the office of Deacon was to take care of the daily administration of the Christian Church’s widows. There was a reliance upon the church for her needs. It is somewhat like the Ministerial Aid of the RCUS to our ministerial widows and the local church’s oversight of widows who are in need. The church is to “honor the aged.” (Leviticus 19:32)
We learn something about Anna by her “fasting and prayer” in the temple confines. Anna did not have a high view of herself. There was consciousness of her sin and the need of God’s forgiveness. It appears that in her prayers she was also concerned for others in God’s Kingdom and for Israel’s great hope.
- Anna knew Jesus and gave thanks (vs. 38) Anna understood that Jesus was the “Redemption of Jerusalem.” Being in the “court of the women” she saw Joseph and Mary with the Infant Jesus. She carefully observed Simeon taking Jesus in his arms. She listened to his “Nunc Dimittis” (the expression of faith in the Lord of which Simeon sang in Luke 2:29-32). She distinctly hears Simeon’s words and she “came up” and joined the little family. She is convinced that this child is indeed the Messiah. Filled with gratitude she immediately returns thanks to God. Her prayer finished, Anna begins to speak.
- Anna shared the message of Simeon (vs. 38) The Messiah has come and He is Jesus. The Greek here says she “ ’omologew”, meaning “to say the same thing” as Simeon. This is her prophetic message. Jesus is salvation. In Luke 1:68 “redemption” is mentioned in the Benediction of Zacharias. Jehovah, Israel’s covenant God, would save His people from their sin. (Matthew 1:21) Hebrews 9:12 states Jesus “entered once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption – through His own blood.” Salvation is in Jesus. He is the Recoverer and the Ransom that paid the price of our sin’s obligation. We are free from the consequences of our personal wicked and evil sin. His life and death are the payment – He fulfilled the law for us as a perfect and blemish-less sacrifice and substitute. We now have “at-one-ment” with our Father.
Conclusion: Anna speaks to those who are “waiting” for the salvation of the Messiah. In view of the fact that the Gospels, on so many occasions, describe the unbelief, wickedness, and hardness of heart of the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees and their many followers, it is refreshing to know that there is a “remnant according to God’s gracious election.” (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:5) That remnant is found in these old saints of God – Anna and Simeon. We can still proclaim this message to others even when we are old. Many can remember the great institutions of the past that proclaimed that “Jesus saves!” but they have now just become museum pieces of the old-time religion. That old-time religion is true religion. Now we are faced with contemporary worship, a new “liberating” gospel and relevant nonsense that are not true. The Pharisees and Sadducees of our day (both Works salvation and Liberalism) do not have the answer to the dilemma of sin. Our old gospel does. “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sin.” (Matthew 1:21)
Rev. Howard Hart