Like A Sparrow in the House of God

Sometimes we meet characters in the Bible who occupy only a handful of verses. The multi-layered mosaic of their life is summed up in a few words – a few quick strokes of the pen. Such is the life of Anna, the elderly widow who caught a glimpse of baby Jesus in the temple with his parents and started telling the whole world that the Messiah had finally arrived. 

There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and was a widow for eighty-four years. She did not leave the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38

We actually are told quite a few details about Anna in the space of three verses. We get the broad strokes of her life and even without the little details painted in we can see a beautiful picture of a weathered saint who had lived her life before the face of God. In fact, she had spent many of her eighty-four years living in the house of God, and was even used by God to speak His words to the people of Israel. 

Anna was from the tribe of Asher, and so likely grew up in her tribe’s territory in the northern part of Israel. Once she matured into a young woman, she married and presumably lived a normal life among the wooded hills and fertile pastures of her homeland. And then tragedy struck. After seven years of marriage her husband died. 

She was alone and apparently without children. But, instead of turning her back on God in anger and bitterness, this godly woman turned her face toward Jerusalem and set off to the holy city to dedicate her life to her God. She made her home in the temple, or likely in one of the rooms in the temple courtyard, and she was content to spend her days and nights in fasting and prayer. 

Such a life might seem dull to many, but for Anna it was a dream fulfilled. She was the sparrow that the sons of Korah wrote about in Psalm 84 – building her nest within the walls of the temple and spending her days near the altars. In the temple, Anna was reminded constantly of the goodness and grace of her God. 

As she watched the priests go about their business, offering sacrifices on behalf of the faithful, she could remember God’s promise to provide a way of forgiveness for sinners. As she sat and listened to the sound of trumpets and lyres  and a multitude of voices singing, she could think about the way God brings together all peoples and gives them a reason to rejoice.  

As Psalm 84 says, Anna longed and yearned to be in the presence of God and to offer up prayer and praise without ceasing. And that is a rare, but beautiful thing. 

But throughout her years living in the temple, Anna never lost sight of what all the temple activity and symbolism was pointing to. She was faithful in keeping the main thing the main thing – the promise of a Messiah who would do away with sin and set the world to rights.

And so Anna could hardly contain her joy when she caught sight of Joseph and Mary, and their little child, and heard Simeon blessing them and declaring that Salvation had finally arrived. This child was the Messiah, and when Anna heard that, she praised God and began to tell the world. 

Do we share Anna’s joy? In all of our praying, and fasting, do we keep our eyes fixed on what is most important? In all of our bible-reading and church-going and doctrine-discussing, are we keeping the promised return of Jesus at the centre, such that, if he actually came and stood among us, would we break out in praise and thanksgiving? 

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