There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
These verses are ones which we often skip over as we move from the joy of Jesus’ birth to the importance of his life. Yet these verses teach us something about the community in which Luke found himself. This growing community included the ministry of strong and faithful women.
Anna was one such woman. She, before Elizabeth or Mary were born, gave her life to serving God. She had married, yes, but she was widowed at a young age. Instead of remarrying, as was common practice, she dedicated herself to serving God. She lived many years in the Temple, praying, waiting, and hoping for a sign from God. One day she saw that sign in the face of a child.
Many of us have spent our lives serving God. We have catered meals, prayed, led worship, mowed lawns, painted rooms, moved chairs, washed dishes, visited the sick and imprisoned. No job has been too big or too small as we have cared for the community gathered in our churches. We do all this because we want to serve God, the one who loves us.
Yet sometimes we may struggle with all we are called to do—especially, as we, like, Anna, age. We may even wonder what it is all for—who will come behind us? When we are gone, who will serve God? We pray, we wait, we hope. And then one day, like Anna, we catch a glimpse of the future, a glimpse of hope, in the face of a child running around the church, in the smile of a stranger who receives a cup of tea at the coffee morning, in the tears of a young mum relieved at being heard, in the lonely man who shares a joke. And we know why we keep doing it—love. Love for the stranger; love for the friend. Love for the young, the old, the in-between. God’s love calls us and God’s love keeps us serving.
Loving God, We catch a glimpse of you in the face of the “other.” As our lives meet, help us offer a word of hope or an act of love. As our lives meet, help us receive them as a gift. Give us courage to continue serving, despite our age, our fears, our inadequacies. Keep us faithful and hopeful like Anna. Fill your Church with the spirit of love and hopefulness. Amen.
The Rev’d Martha McInnes is the Chaplain at Willen Hospice, Milton Keynes