For Anna, Christmas meant a moment to prophesy liberation/redemption for God’s people (2:36-38). There was a Mary and Joseph, an Elizabeth and Zechariah, and now an Anna and Simeon. Anna was a widow.
Widows — they are more prominent in the NT than most realize. Widows are as easy for us to overlook in the text as they were at the time of Jesus in reality. Mary was a widow, Jesus ministered to widows all the time, and the early churches paid special attention to widows (1 Tim 5:3-16). Widows were vulnerable in a society created around a male economic system.
Here are some observations about widows in the world of Jesus: a widow was among the weakest members of society unless she had an unusually large amount in her ketubbah (marriage agreement). For a woman who became a widow, remarriage was the standard recommendation of the rabbis. In the event that a husband is reported to have been killed, death had to be proven; until then the wife was in a state of aggunah (mYebamot 16:5-7; bYebamot 115a, 126a). Some, however, saw the state of widowhood in idealistic terms: Judith; Luke 2:36-38; Acts 9:39; yShabbat 10:5. [I’ll begin a series next week on women at the time of Jesus, utilizing Tal Ilan’s research.] From this you can get the sense that a widow’s place in society was generally unstable. Anna may have taken to her widowhood, but that didn’t make her place in society any more stable.
Anna was weak; Anna was vulnerable; Anna lived (most likely) from alms and the generosity of those who worshiped at the Temple.
Two features stand out about Anna: First, she was devoted and righteous and devout. She lived at the Temple and worshiped God constantly “fasting and praying.” She’s an impressive senior saint, and we are supposed to marvel at her piety.
However poor, however vulnerable, Anna was a prophetess and she saw the baby for the Messiah he would become. She started talking him up as the Messiah who was to come who had come and who was about to shake the nation.
Her audience: the expectant ones (“those looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”). The word for “redemption” is lutrosis, which can mean ransom, deliverance, and liberation.
We are back to a theme we’ve seen before: Mary longed for liberation, Zechariah longed for liberation, Simeon longed for salvation for Israel, and now Anna announces the news of the Messiah’s arrival to those who were also longing for Israel’s redemption.
Anna proves the old point: those who look are the first to see. Anna saw the baby, her audience heard her prophecy, we don’t know which of them got to see the deliverance Jesus brought. That redemption of Jesus is available to us if we look and see in the baby the dawning kingdom.