I had the honor of guest-writing this week for The Monday Club – Hannah Brencher’s weekly email that helps people across the world start their week with excitement and purpose. When she first reached out about collaborating, she shared her vision for spending the month of December talking about the “unseen seasons” we all face and how God is often doing the most miraculous work when it seems the world isn’t watching. She wanted to introduce her readers to elements of the Christmas Story from a perspective they maybe hadn’t seen before. Each week this month, she has looked at different parts of the Advent story from the perspective of how God uses the waiting, the weird timing, the imperfect circumstances, and the ordinary to bring His best creations and work into fulfillment.
This is the story of Anna, a woman who was committed to seeing what God promised her to come to be. Because there is hope in the waiting. Hope in the unseen. Even after decades of a seemingly endless wait, there is hope. Especially right here, right now, in a time of year where you might feel silly or like there is something wrong with you if you are not encountering that holiday joy that everyone seems to be dripping with. You are not alone.
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It’s incredible, really, the kinds of things you can dig out of just three verses in Scripture. Take Anna’s story in Luke 2, for example. The aged and widowed prophetess who spent her days (and nights) camped out in the Temple of God. There was something about Him that she couldn’t pull herself away from – something about the promise of His coming Messiah that she couldn’t shake. Surely, I’ll see Him in my lifetime, she likely thought amid her regular fasting and prayer.
It’s probably a detail that God had whispered to her privately, although we don’t see that outrightly in Luke’s story. We do know, however, that Anna was a prophetess – a woman to whom future events and other significant things that were otherwise hidden from others were, at times, revealed. Speaking to those He has given prophecy-ears to is God’s way of sharing His thoughts and intentions before something took place, through the divine inspiration of just, well, knowing, or those vivid kinds of Spirit-speaking dreams. Sometimes the words are for future events involving other people. And sometimes? They are just for you. Too private and too sacred to share out loud with anyone else.
Anna had spent the better part of her entire life there in that temple. Her story is one of Psalm 84 lived out in full, believing technicolor. She had passed through the Valley of Baca-weeping. She had been married for seven years when she lost her husband, circumstances unknown. God had taken the one person she loved more than anyone else, leaving her a widow and catapulting her into a multi-faceted kind of grief. Because, in those biblical times, a woman’s only source of economic support was her husband. So she not only lost the love of her life, she lost her future financial security. She had no children, and the day her husband died, she was left utterly and completely alone, the poorest of the poor, wholly desolate, and entirely dependant upon God. For everything.
But she made one crucial decision on the day that she buried her husband: her hope? It didn’t get buried with him. Instead, she made her way to the temple, where she would remain for the next 84 years. Through her long and godly life, her mind had become saturated with the Old Testament. So she likely knew those Psalm 84 words well: “What pleasure fills those who live every day in Your temple, enjoying You as they worship in Your presence! [Pause in his presence.] How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord; within their hearts are the highways of holiness! Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain. He gives to them a brook of blessing filled from the rain of an outpouring” (Psalm 84:4-6, TPT).
Through Anna’s loss and subsequent desolation and loneliness, she did not desert the temple nor withdraw from her daily place in the presence of God. Instead, she was there every single day, serving and worshiping Him with private and voluntary fasting and regular prayer-conversation. Night and day. For 84 years. And God honored her diligence, using her to speak prophetically to His people.
And then came the day. You know, the one where Jesus (just barely 40 days old) is presented in the temple. The holy family of three walked in, and Mary had her sacrifice of two turtledoves ready to go (fulfilling those Leviticus 12, post-childbirth requirements) when Simeon appeared. He scooped up that newborn Babe and spilled out Spirit-spoken words before turning to His parents and doing the same.
“A painful sword will one day pierce your inner being,” Simeon had said to Mary. It was an expression for the extreme anguish she would experience as her tiny Babe became a Messiah-Man, rejected by the very people He was coming to save.
And then, at that instant, Anna walked in. A woman who was well-acquainted with suffering walked into the room just as Simeon prophesied to Mary about her future suffering while holding that Babe, who Isaiah prophecied, would be “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV). That 100-year-old-woman who had survived her own extreme anguish surveyed the scene. She saw Mary standing there with her sacrifice – the one that indicated her own poverty-stricken state. And she saw that holy Messiah-babe. And she began to worship, thanking God. (I wonder if it wasn’t until later that she realized that the mother of the Messiah was poor, just like her.)
The Greek word, anthomologeoma, for “thanking” means “to say the same thing as another, to agree with, to praise and celebrate.” Anna who suddenly stepped onto the scene, picked up where Simeon left off. (I wonder if it wasn’t until later – much later – that Mary realized that God, who brought Anna in at that very moment, was whispering hope: “You will survive this.”)
Those subtle connecting-details leave so much up to the imagination. But there is one thing that we do know: Anna had lived out her entire life with God’s house as her dwelling place. Day after day, for about 30,660 days, she went to the temple, expecting the promised Messiah. Year after year, as that promise went unfulfilled, still, she waited. Believing He would, in fact, come. And through her heartache and waiting? She experienced an intimate aspect of God’s character that not many people get to experience. And she heard God’s voice in a way that not many people get to hear.
I know that kind of mind-blowing Spirit-whispering that God reserves for those who experience heart-crushing loss and subsequent waiting-hope. In my ten-year-long wait for our family, I got a front-row seat to His spoken promise – the one that whispered hope and had me coming back to His presence night and day, year after year, anticipating the fulfillment of it. Until the very moment He rendered His miracle, and He let me in on the secret. (You can read that story here.)
Anna had waited those 30,000 days to lay her believing eyes on that beloved Messiah. And then, one day, the miracle happened. And for the rest of her life, she didn’t stop telling the story of it. Because as hard as it is to hang on to hope after that kind of unprecedented heartache? Out of its ashes comes an unparalleled kind of hallelujah.
Oh, for the greatness of His glory.