36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38
At the beginning of this chapter Luke noted the census declared by Caesar Augustus, the first one when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Here he mentions Anna the prophetess, an 84-year-old widow who apparently never left the Temple in Jerusalem from time her husband had died decades earlier.
Apparently Luke felt that both were worth mentioning in this Gospel. Each, it seems, had a part in God’s plan and in Jesus’ story. Augustus, world-maker and ruler, set history itself in motion with his census decree, causing Mary and Joseph to go down to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus and thus, unbeknownst to Caesar, to fulfill ancient prophecies. Anna, widow of the Temple, spoke to this same Mary and Joseph and to others around them of this Jesus, of the ancient prophecies and of the current ones given to her by God about this child. Both Anna and Augustus each in their own way helping to establish the climate in which the Christ was making His appearance. But both so different!
Augustus on the one hand – world ruler, world influencer, with his multitude of projects and plans, governors and prefects, armies and navies at his command. A word from him, and entire nations would be moved. Anna on the other hand – a longtime widow of little consequence, never leaving the Temple, never travelling outside Jerusalem to see Nazareth or Joppa or even perhaps Bethlehem, most people doubtless ignoring her or taking her for granted, spending her days simply in prayer, fasting and worship. Both so different – but both indispensable to the Gospel of Jesus according to Luke!
And thus it is with churches, too. It’s easy to be enthralled by the churches that are world influencers, the ones with multitudes of projects and plans, with huge staffs and multiple pastors and groups. It’s easy to take as wisdom the books written and seminars promoted by those who come from those churches, because we know they wouldn’t be in those positions if they didn’t know something. And it’s also easy to ignore those churches whose ministry seems to be plain and simple – prayer, fasting and worship – never leaving the sanctuary to venture out beyond their own community, always staying put for decades until they seem so elderly and inconsequential.
But perhaps both are indispensable, just like Anna and Augustus are both indispensable to Luke. The church at large needs the influencers, and it needs the stay-at-homes. It needs the Caesars, and it needs the Annas. We need churches that are huge or tiny, influential or unknown, young or old, vigorous or weak, wise or foolish, spiritually mature or spiritually silly. But those are just the outward things that the world sees. Here’s the true difference between Anna and Augustus, and the reason why ALL churches need to be like Anna and not at all like Augustus:
As far as we know, Christ and Caesar never met. They were never in the same place at the same time. Augustus in all his glory and power never laid eyes on the Carpenter from Nazareth.
But Anna – simple, plain, old, praying-fasting-worshiping Anna – was in the right place (the Temple) when Jesus showed up because she never left it, and she met Him that day.
May the Holy Spirit work in us the determination to remain in the presence of Jesus all the time, regardless of who we are, what we are doing, what are plans are, or what we look like to the world, so that it may always be said of us “we never left Him.”
God bless us everyone!