We read, in Luke’s gospel, that when the baby Jesus was brought to the Jerusalem temple to be consecrated, or set apart, for the Lord, in line with the Old Testament law, He was met by two elderly people who recognise Him as the long awaited Messiah: Simeon and Anna.
Anna was the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. We’ll circle back to this point soon – but it’s important to note that Biblical references to genealogy and geography are rarely without cause.
Anna had been married to her husband for 7 years, before he died. She spent the remainder of her life as a widow - we can assume around 60 years. We don’t know anything else about her predicament: maybe she had been left an inheritance and had all her needs met; or – more likely - she lived as a beggar –dependent on the mercy and generosity of others.
We do know for certain that Anna was a prophetess, and lived in the temple. She never left it, but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying in anticipation for the Messiah, the Chosen One who would come and deliver the Israelites from their suffering and distress.
When she saw Mary and Joseph, Anna immediately recognised Jesus as the Chosen One, the Christ child. She thanked God for Him, and she directed all in the temple who were awaiting the Messiah to this baby boy.
A couple of episodes ago, we saw that after 400 years of silence, the first prophetic word - revelation inspired by the Holy Spirit –came through a woman: Elizabeth. And here, again, Luke tells of another woman, who speaks through the power of the Holy Spirit.
You see, Jesus is about to usher in something new, something incredible, something that was foretold in the book of Joel. When the Messiah comes, God’s spirit will be poured out on all people and the sons and daughters of Israel will prophecy. God’s 400 years of silence has been broken with a trickle – beginning with Elizabeth’s anointing in Luke 1 and continuing with Simeon and Anna in chapter 2. And, as we will see in the second half of the Story – in Acts 5, this trickle will turn into a mighty wave and many more will prophecy.
But back to Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher.
When we read stories in the Bible, there are three things to keep in mind: geography, genealogy, and grace. And as Jesus origin story is full of grace, we’ll discover how the geography and genealogy mentioned here point to God’s abundant grace.
Anna’s father’s name is Penuel. Peniel is a placed mentioned in Genesis 32, described as the site of Jacob’s struggle with an angel, God’s messenger. After he receives God’s blessing, Jacob names that place Peniel, which means “face of God.” And he says, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” Old Testament believers knew that no one could see God’s face and survive: he is too holy, too good, too glorious for human eyes to behold.
And yet, Anna, the prophetess, the daughter of Penuel literally sees the face of God. Not only Anna, but all those who met, and saw and heard Jesus’ teaching in his 33 years on earth – they all saw the face of God. What marvelous grace, what incredible mercy - this is the miracle of the incarnation: the untouchable God becomes touchable. The invisible God becomes visible. The holy God becomes accessible. It is grace.
The other important piece of this story is Anna’s tribe: the tribe of Asher. Asher was one of the twelve tribes of Israel, and his tribe were were given the land, which in Jesus’ day, stretched through Gallillee, Tire and Sidon – places the adult Jesus visited and lived often in his ministry. Asher was one of the ten lost tribes of Israel – one of the tribes of the Northern Kingdom, that was conquered and exiled after it was taken by the Assyrian empire more than 700 years earlier. Unlike their southern cousins, who were only exiled for a short time, the Israelites of the northern kingdom tasted God’s judgment and wrath in what appeared to be their permanent exile.
The return of the lost tribes of Israel to Jerusalem, and to true worship of Yahweh was associated with the coming of the Messiah.
And so, even at just 8 days old, Jesus the Messiah, is already signalling His work to gather the lost tribes of Israel and beyond in worship of God. God’s Spirit had graciously descended on Anna – a woman, from the forsaken tribe of Asher - giving her insight and the gift of prophecy, bringing her to true worship of God.
Anna’s is a woman of remarkable faith. It is good and right to see Anna as a worthy example to follow: a woman who suffered grief and hardship, and still gave herself over to the Lord in faithful, worshipful anticipation of His deliverance. I hope that if I live to 84, I live with the same faithful, prayerful enthusiasm and persistence as Anna as I wait for the Lord to return.
But just as with every other story that we’ve considered in Jesus’ grace origins, we’re being pointed to something - to someone - even greater.
The God who keeps His promises. Who pours out His spirit in abundance. Who graciously brings back His long lost children, his prodigal sons and daughters. This is grace.
But the greatest grace here is that Anna saw the face of God.
And because of the incarnation, because of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection an ascension, we too will see the face of God if our faith is secure in Jesus. We too will see the face of God, and live with God and be with God in the new creation. There, God’s dwelling will be among His people, and He will dwell with them. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4)
Origins of grace. A future of grace. Come Lord Jesus, come again.