That’s how my eldest responded when I shared the name of the final woman of steel in the Christmas Shorts series. In fairness she’s easily missed; hidden at the end of the Christmas story appearing around the time Jesus reached the six-week mark. Before visiting the temple, Mary had waited the required 40 days after childbirth, as designated by Jewish law, and went with Joseph to present Jesus at the temple. When a child was born, the happy couple brought a burnt offering of a lamb (generally given by the wealthy), dove or a pigeon to the temple. It was likely that Mary and Joseph brought the latter, due to their financial status, and this special ceremony held great importance to them. As they entered the temple, they were met by Simeon, an elderly prophet who had spent a lifetime waiting for the Messiah to arrive. He greeted Mary and Joseph with great excitement, speaking prophetic words over their new child and rejoicing at His arrival. He then turned to Mary and gave her this specific word:
“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
Simeon’s words must have cut across the joyous scene. Most vicars generally avoid pointing out all the nightmares the parents will face while they are still holding the baby over the christening font. As Simeon shared these difficult words with Mary, Anna stumbled upon the scene. For upwards of six decades Anna’s life was filled with prayer and fasting in the temple. It was a life of total devotion, spent worshipping the God she adored, but life at the temple wasn’t her original choice. Just seven years into her marriage, grief snatched the future she had planned, and her life took a different direction. Since the death of her husband, she had lived in the temple. As a prophet, she discerned the will of God carefully and spoke His truth to those who came to worship.
Anna understood what it meant to grieve. Although it isn’t recorded in Scripture, I imagine Anna hearing Simeon’s words and stepping in to comfort Mary as she tried to process what she was hearing. Anna knew what it was to have a soul pierced by loss and to watch a loved one suffer. She knew what it meant to look sorrow in the face and make a daily choice to trust God and hold onto His faithfulness.
Anna demonstrated a life of devotion, and although we may not spend our days fasting and praying continually, we can still follow this woman of steel’s example. Every day we are given opportunities to worship through our words and actions. Every day there are people that God places in our pathway who we can bless and encourage. Every day there are those desperate to hear, “I understand,” from someone who has walked a similar path. Anna was able to come alongside Mary and reassure her that whatever she faced as she supported her precious child, God would be faithful.
After recognising that she was in the presence of the long-awaited Messiah, Anna took every opportunity to tell everyone she met about the joyous news. She wanted all within the temple to know the difference that Jesus would make in their lives.
“She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.”
When in sorrow, Anna chose to worship.
When in despair, Anna chose devotion.
When discerning grief, Anna chose compassion.
When seeing the Messiah, Anna chose to witness.
As we enter 2019, let us reflect the choices made by Anna, and be women (and men) of steel who tell everyone about the precious gift given to us this Christmas.