My grandmother spent the last 12 years of her life in a small-town nursing home. It was a simple place with few frills and not much programming. But that was okay with her. She and my grandpa had raised their family on a farm in West Texas. They knew struggles. They understood hard work. They endured their share of lean years. As it happens, her years in the nursing home saw her return to childlike dependency on others. At first, she needed the walker, then the wheelchair, and finally only her bed. In those last years, she spent day and night in that modest nursing home. She died shortly before her 100th birthday.
I thought of my grandmother when I read the appointed Gospel reading for this first Sunday after Christmas. Simeon normally gets the attention in this text. And that is fine. He sang a nice song. But this year, I am drawn to Anna. Perhaps it is because she makes me think of my grandmother.
We do not know much about Anna. We know she was a faithful Israelite from the tribe of Asher. We know she had endured hardship and grief for many decades as a widow. She was at least 84 years old (and maybe even 105, depending on how you translate verse 37). Luke tells us she spent day and night in the Temple, fasting and praying. She longed for the redemption of Israel, and, like Simeon before her, saw her salvation in the newborn child.
Luke does not say much else about Anna, especially in comparison to Simeon. But the fact that he mentions her suggests she has something to teach your hearers today.
Because prayer and fasting are among the few things Luke records about her, some reflection on these habits might provide a little direction. A few comments from Joel Green seem helpful:
“Fasting is of special significance precisely because it is a deliberate departure from cultural norms, not least in the world of Luke-Acts where meals are of such exaggerated social significance in their own right. Fasting constitutes a form of protest, an assertion that all is not well... Anna’s fasting may have been motivated by her loss—that is, as a sign of mourning. More likely in this eschatologically charged narrative environment, Anna’s abstinence is an expression of her hope, a form of prayer entreating God to set things right” (NICNT, The Gospel of Luke, 151).
Anna’s prayer and fasting seems to have come from her faith and hope. Looking beyond her present circumstances, she found strength in the promises of God.
Anna’s prayer and fasting seems to have come from her faith and hope.
My grandmother was a faithful woman of God. She was only a widow for six years. As far as I am aware, no one called her a prophetess. But her room at the end of the hallway in her modest nursing home may well have been Anna’s. Especially toward the end of her life, she spent much of her days and nights in prayer, longing for the Lord to finish his redeeming work and take her (and us all) home.
I am not sharing all this about my grandmother to suggest you include her in your sermon. Instead, there are probably women like my grandmother in your congregation, ones who are like Anna. Consider talking about them as examples of faithfulness in your context. Unfortunately, many regularly attending members have lost track of homebound, faithful women. Perhaps they never knew them. Perhaps their absence from the regular gatherings of the congregation has allowed them to fade slowly but surely out of sight and mind.
But you see them. You visit them. You bring them the Lord’s Supper. You pray with them and hear their prayers. You listen to their stories and share their longing. You sit at their bedside and are humbled by the depth of their faith.
Anna did not see anything more than the child. But when she saw Him, she saw the promise of God coming to fulfillment. Even if she did not see His miraculous wonders, His selfless death, or His vindicating resurrection, she saw her Savior. And that was enough. Like all of us, she looked forward in faith to things she would not see by sight. As such, she is a model of faithful confidence in the promise of God to complete His redeeming work.
In your sermon, proclaim the promise of the Lord’s redemption for Israel and all baptized nations. Invite them to see in Anna, and perhaps also in people like my grandmother, living faith that endures sorrow and struggles and decades of solitude.
But do not stop there. The calendar this year means three straight days of worship services. This is not only hard on pastors, but also on the faithful who attend every service. Depending on the size of your congregation, you might get creative about how and where you gather for worship this Sunday. What if you held your service at the nursing home where one of these members lives? What if you began your service in church and broke into groups to visit and sing Christmas carols at multiple nursing homes? What if you spent time in the service recording greetings to be shared with homebound members? However it might work in your context, imagine how you could expand your congregation’s connections to people like my grandmother, to people like Anna. To people who, like them, long for the return of our Lord Jesus.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 2:22-40.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 2:22-40.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 2:22-40.