“There was a prophetess, Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher” (Luke 2:36).
1 John 2:12-17; Luke 2:36-40
Near the end of Luke’s infancy narrative, the last word goes to Anna the prophetess. Though she is mentioned only once and given second status to Simeon in the temple, Luke provides details about her that suggest she was important to the story. He tells us that she was of the tribe of Asher, the son of Jacob and Zilpah, Leah’s maid, and that her father was Phanuel, or Penuel, the name of the place where Jacob wrestled with an angel.
Luke tells us she was 84, a widow for over 60 years after a seven-year marriage, who then devoted her life to prayer and fasting in the temple. When the child Jesus was presented, Anna knew the long history of Israel he would fulfill as its promised redeemer. Anna also knew the oppression of women and the poor, the petty rivalries and power struggles in Jerusalem under Herod and the Romans. She knew what Simeon meant when he foretold that rejection and trouble lay ahead for Jesus.
Luke’s Gospel is called the "Gospel of Women," and perhaps he hints that Anna knew Elizabeth and Zechariah, also present in the temple because of his priestly duties, and the story of their miracle child. Perhaps she was part of a tight circle of older women who shared the stories Luke added to his narrative. Why was Anna significant enough to be named? Because she helped root the story of Jesus in the soil of Jewish history, its ancestors, prophecies and struggles. Each witness made familiar and more human the promise Jesus fulfilled by entering the life of God’s people.
Every active parish has its own honored circle of women who hold all the memories, know all the names and families, their importance to the life and history of the community. They are the guardians who preserve the parish’s identity, know its timelines, traditions, founding stories, its strengths and weaknesses, its secrets.. They know the anniversaries, captions for photos, the sacrifices made by deceased parishioners, the names on the plaques. They remind us just how intimately linked we are to one another, how blessed we are to be called, welcomed, mentored and taught to be part of the story.
Jesus came among us not as an idea or an abstraction, but in the flesh. He is present for us now in the powerful webs of human interdependence that root us in both belief and shared experience. We are not alone. We know Christ because he lives in our communities and families, calls us daily to accompany him into the world with all its challenges and opportunities, its uncertainties and demands.
Anna waited all her life to see God’s promises fulfilled in Jesus. She believed, thanked God and shared her joy with everyone. She now encourages us to do the same.