The promise of the coming Messiah had been pronounced. The promise provoked anticipation. There was the prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36). Over 700 years earlier, her tribe had been exiled from Israel and largely assimilated amongst other ethnicities. As one of the few representatives of her tribe, she awaited their return from exile and the restoration of Israel (2:38).
Anna was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four (2:36). She had suffered the loss of her husband, bread-winner and family-head. She endured as a female prophet. If women in today’s world have a tough time sharing God’s word, imagine the difficulties Anna confronted in the patriarchal culture of her day. She waited and waited. She was 84.
Anna never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day (2:37). Her waiting was active, cultivated by days and nights, weeks and years of worship, prayer and fasting. When will the Messiah come?
We live on the other side of the Messiah’s coming, but we await his return. We have received the promise that Jesus will come again to resurrect the dead, to judge and to renew creation. In our waiting we witness injustice, oppression, evil and death. Knowing that the Messiah will come again makes the sickness, subjugation and wickedness all the more intolerable. We cry out with the martyrs at heaven’s altar, “How long until you come?” (Revelation 6:10).
Like Anna we participate in the long wait of all ethnicities for the day when the kingdoms of the earth become the kingdoms of our Lord. Like Anna we bear loneliness and social exclusion, honing in on God’s words that serve as daily nourishment for the wait. Our waiting takes the form of prayer and fasting, knowing that God is mysteriously waiting with us. We ask for signs of salvation, signs of healing, signs of deliverance. But where it seems that oppression and sin win the day, our waiting is painful. It means enduring. And we keep waiting, aging and anticipating, knowing that death will not have the last word. We believe the Messiah will come.