Lent & Advent

Advent 2021: A Season Of Healing And Hope – December 18

Jim Hopkins

December 16, 2021

Anna the Prophetess and the Great Reversal

Valentine Royal
(Rev. Valentine Royal, a long time member of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church since late August 1989, when she was called to the ministry of Associate Pastor and served until 1994.  Rev. Valentine accepted an advocacy ministry with ABCUSA, as Executive Director of Women in Ministry, from 1994 – 2009 and has worked in various ministry and community service positions, primarily in Monterey, CA.  In November 2015, she formally retired, and relocated to Germantown, MD)

36 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 seven years after her marriage,37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 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.

Luke 2:36-38 (NRSV)

The three verses which tell the whole story of Anna the Prophetess reflect the impact of one woman’s life and clearly indicate God’s desire to display undeniable signs of God’s intention to introduce a  great reversal[1].With the  birth of our Messiah, Jesus Christ, the world would never be the same again. The account of the Jesus’ birth boldly includes three women, who hold a sacred space in God’s revealed plan to turn the world upside down. They are  Mary, the mother of Jesus; Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin; and Anna, the prophetess, who is not related to the holy family by blood, but solely by the will of God. Anna’s story snatches power away from the esteemed societal norms of gender, race,  age, marital status, childlessness, and homelessness. Of the three women in the Christmas Story, Anna is my favorite, because she exposes another aspect of God’s plan in action to complete the great reversal.

We are not given a lengthy family history, yet  each fact of her life helps us to understand how God uses ordinary people to make extraordinary change  She is Anna the Prophetess. Anna whose name means favor or grace, is the daughter of Phanuel, whose name means “The face or appearance of God. Phanuel is from the tribe of Asher, –one of the so called, “lost tribes.”[2] And we are not given Anna’s husband’s name, his age, or his cause of death. A woman’s status in society was then, and sometimes now,  solidified by patriarchal lineage, clearly God chose to force that norm into careful reconsideration.

That a woman in the first century, could hold a place in the Temple hierarchy is noteworthy:  Anna was an outsider: female, born into a tribe taken captive by the Assyrians, and never officially returned to Israel.[3]  Anna was disqualified as a place holder in proper society. She was a young, barren, widow, who had no male relatives to support  her or to  provide for her. Women did not work for a living during her time, they took care of their home, husband, and family. And when we meet her in Luke, she is very old, 84 years old. Even today, considered to be beyond the age to contribute to society.

Anna’s place in scripture has been secured by God;  She was a chosen spiritual leader, who lived by the faithfulness of God every day. She spoke messages inspired by God. She lived in the Temple. She worshipped, fasted and praised God all day, each day and she never left the place where God’s people gathered. She became a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

So, why, you might ask, is Anna the prophetess my favorite woman in the Bible? Because God tells OUR story in Anna’s story:  There is nothing we can say or do or become that places us beyond the love, mercy and acceptance of God. It seems to me, the more unlikely we are or to be identified as the Beloved of God, the more likely it is that God transforms us through the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who is the Sacred Proof of the great reversal. He, alone, secured our equality  at the foot of the cross and at the door of the empty tomb. And sits at the right hand of God as our Advocate and Guarantor, that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. It is in Him that we all  become Annas, overflowing with  joy, running to tell the world that the Savior has come to seek and to save that which was lost.     

[1] The Great Reversal: Ethics and the New Testament, Allen Verhey, November 1, 1986, Published by Wm. B. Eerdman

[2] Herbert Lockyer’s, All the Women of the Bible, Chapter 2, Named Bible Women, October 13, 1988, Published by Zondervan Academic

[3] Women of the Bible: Anna, Series author is Damaris Albuquerque, Executive Director,  CEPAD  (Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua), August 1, 2019