Anna (Luke 2:22–24, 36–38) is part of the Christmas story. It’s easy to overlook her among the many characters in Luke’s infancy narrative because she has only a few verses, which are interrupted in the middle by the story of a male disciple who is given more space (Luke 2:22–35). But Anna’s brief story presents a powerful role model for older adults.
Anna was eighty-four years old. That was an extraordinary age in first-century Palestine, when the average life expectancy was less than forty. In addition, she was widowed at a young age. That was nothing short of a calamity in a patriarchal society where women had no status apart from the men in their families. She spent the rest of her life in the Temple, worshiping “night and day with fasting and prayer.”
Then one day, Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple, and Anna, a widow of advanced age with absolutely no status in the community, was given the grace to recognize him.
Anna was one of the first disciples. She was called to recognize the possibility of doing what must have seemed inconceivable: to break the silence imposed on women and speak about the grace she had been given. The eagerness with which she did so comes through in Luke’s brief summary of her joyful proclamation: “She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”
The graces that Anna experienced were all the more extraordinary because she was a woman. Throughout his ministry, Jesus evidenced a countercultural attitude toward women, culminating when he commissioned Mary Magdalene to communicate the news of the Resurrection to the male disciples (John 20:17)—an event so extraordinary that they refused to believe her (Luke 24:10–11). Anna, a generation earlier, was one of the first women called to break boundaries. She recognized what was possible and answered the call with eagerness and joy.
It’s worth noting that Anna was not unprepared for these graces. She had nurtured the gifts of prayer and deep contemplation during the long years she spent in the Temple. Then, all unasked for, very late in life, God gave her the gift of prophecy and called her to preach. She had different gifts, at different times in her life.
As we experience major changes in our lives—widowhood or retirement or responsibilities for aging parents—God may be calling us to new forms of discipleship and giving us the graces we need to answer the call.
—Excerpted from Answering God’s Call by Barbara Lee
Image: Simeon and Anna in the Temple by Rembrandt, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.