We have dedicated this series to the memory of those who waited on the Lord. We considered Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon, each of whom entered a time of waiting. Some waited better than others, but they all waited for the right thing: God himself. Let us take this fourth and final Sunday in Advent to consider one more waiter: Anna.
It is fitting that we conclude with Anna, for of all these waiters she is the one who waited the longest. According to Luke, she was "very old" (2:36). She spent between fifty and sixty years as a widow, waiting on God in the temple. Anna's was a life spent waiting.
Consider this life spent waiting. She could easily feel spent, useless, forgotten. She was surely tempted to become bitter, angry, or simply paralyzed. Is a life spent waiting a life well spent?
Many of us spend our lives waiting. Waiting for the next thing: to succeed, to graduate, to get a job, to mature, to have children, etc. And it is easy to feel spent, useless, forgotten--tempted to become bitter, angry, or simply paralyzed. Is a life spent waiting a life well spent?
Others of us spend our lives hurrying. We believe that spending a life waiting is not a life well spent, and so we rush through life. It is the same struggle as those who wait: the fear of being spent, useless, forgotten. It's just a different coping strategy. Is a life spent hurrying any better spent than a life spent waiting?
But consider again Anna. In her we see and hear the good news that a life spent waiting on God is a life well spent.
Note well: not just any waiting, but waiting on God. Some of us wait because injustice blocks our way. Not all waiting is right. Some of us need to hear the good news that now is our moment for action--that God is calling us to resist those who make us wait for their gain. But all of us are called to wait on God. Only then, when the time is right, will we know we are acting in good faith.
Not only did Anna wait on the right thing (i.e., God); she also waited on God well. In fact, she waited on God the best of all our characters in this series. Consider how well she waited on God.
First of all, she waited on God the longest. The text goes out of its way to indicate her age. There may be some symbolic significance to these numbers, but at the very least they highlight the length of time she spent waiting. Hers was a life spent waiting. And since she was waiting on God, her life was well spent.
Second, she worshipped while she waited. She "never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying" (v. 37). She knew that waiting well does not mean simply going about her business till God does his thing. No! Waiting well is an active practice of hastening the Lord's coming by seeking him worship. Worship is not only thanking God for what he has done but also anticipating God for what he is about to do. Waiting and worship belong together. A life spent waiting in a posture of worship is a life well spent.
Finally, she testified to what she saw. She waited a long time, and so when the fulfillment came she burst forth with thanksgiving to God and proclamation to others: "Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem" (v. 38). Unlike Mary, who "cherished these things in her heart" (waiting to tell Luke many years later), Anna joined the Shepherds in proclaiming the good news of the coming the Lord immediately. She waited till the time was right. But when it was, boy did she let loose. Her testimony was greater because she waited for it. She understood fulfillment because she understand the waiting that necessarily precedes it. These words of testimony at the close of her life render the whole of her life as a testimony to the faithfulness of God. A life spent waiting for an opportunity to testify is a life well spent.
More could be said about Anna. And much more could be said about the theme of waiting. More Christmas characters could be added to the mix. And many more characters from the whole of Scripture could be considered. But my hope is that you might this season embrace the occasions of waiting in your life as opportunities to answer to call to wait on the Lord. May these lives spent waiting inspire you to wait well, to find a manner of waiting that brings joy both to you and the Lord. At the very least, may you join Israel and the Church in the great act of waiting on the Messiah's coming. For a life spent waiting on God is a life well spent.