Women in the Bible Series
August 21, 2011
All of us here are familiar with the reality of waiting. We get a lot of practice doing it, on a daily basis. We wait for that one person in our family who is always the last one ready to go (in my family, that would be me!), we wait at the stoplight or behind the buggy, we wait in the grocery line to check-out, we wait for the end of the day when we’re off work, we wait for Friday to come so we can enjoy the weekend (well, I should say most normal people wait for Friday—Patrick and I actually wait for Monday to roll around as that’s our day off! :)), we wait for church to be over so we can go out to eat!, we wait for the exciting vacation we have planned….
Although we get a lot of practice at waiting, it’s not something we’re necessarily good at! Sometimes we even talk about things in terms of not being able to wait: I can’t wait until I’m old enough to get my driver’s license, I can’t wait until I can move out of this house!, I can’t wait until I get a good-paying job, I can’t wait until I meet that special person and can get married, I can’t wait until I have kids, I can’t wait until I retire….
What is it about waiting that is so hard? There’s something about waiting that goes against every fiber of our being. Maybe it’s partly human nature, and maybe it’s partly the way we’ve been conditioned to operate.
I’ve been reading a book called Sacred Waiting by David Timms. Here’s what he says: “The pace of life that we embrace means that every wait represents a waste of our time. So we grumble when the computer takes two minutes to boot up. We eat a lot of fast food. We live attached to our cell phones or BlackBerrys so we can quickly pick up every call, text message, or email—even while on vacation. We view the yellow traffic light as an invitation to “put the pedal to the metal” rather than brake (I’m guilty of that J). Then we grow impatient if the traffic lights remain red for long. Our irritation level rises exponentially in checkout lines, train stations, restaurants, and doctors’ offices—not to mention the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles. None of us likes to wait. There’s simply too much to do!”
We do live a fast pace of life. We pack our schedules and our children’s schedules full of activities and involvements. We live in a time and place where everything is instant and high speed and fast. We barely have a chance to catch our breath most of the time, let alone actually stop and give our full attention to God.
But then something happens in our lives that causes us to stop, usually some sort of hardship. And waiting becomes our reality. And we can either choose to give our attention to filling our time with whatever will keep our mind off our waiting, or we can choose to give our attention to God during our waiting.
In the book I mentioned, Sacred Waiting, the author talks about these two approaches to waiting. It’s the difference between waiting and sacred waiting. We tend to typically view waiting as passive, as an in between time to “get through” so that we can get on to whatever important thing we’re waiting for. But sacred waiting (waiting on God) is active. The actual time of waiting is just as important, or more so, than whatever it is we’re waiting for. Sacred waiting involves two things—presence and service. Sacred waiting means not just letting the time go by, but actively drawing closer to God and responding to his leading during our time of waiting.
And the woman in the Bible that we’re studying this morning is a wonderful example of this practice of sacred waiting. Anna is a woman we know little about. As with most women in the Bible, there is little said about her. This most likely is connected to the fact that the society of that time was a patriarchal society, meaning that men held prominence in authority and worth, and women were mostly defined in relation to men. When Jesus came around, he showed a new way as he gave equal authority and worth to all people. One way we see this is in the way that he treated women—counter to the way the culture of that day operated. But that’s another sermon!
Back to Anna…we have a total of four sentences about this woman! But let’s look at what Luke tells us in those four sentences…
He tells us that Anna was a prophet. A prophet is someone who speaks God’s message to God’s people. A literal translation for the word prophet is “one who announces.”
Luke also tells us that Anna was old. She was anywhere from 84 to 104 years old, depending on how the passage is interpreted. But she had been living for a long time, and widowed for most of her life. Anna was most likely married around the age of 12 or 14, as that was the typical age girls were given in marriage. We are told that she was married for a mere seven years before her husband died. That means she was a widow by the time she was around 19 or 21. That’s not a reality most of us can fathom.
But even at that young age, she never married again. We don’t know why she didn’t marry again; it appears that she may have chosen not to and instead chose to dedicate her life to God. We do know that she spent her nights and days being present to God and serving God. Luke2:37says, “She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” So if we do the math, Anna spent 60 to 80-some years at the temple worshiping God. And during these 60 to 80-some years, Anna was practicing sacred waiting—presence and service to God.
Anna’s model of waiting is significant. It wasn’t as if she was waiting for some small thing. Anna was a devout Jew who was waiting for the promised Messiah, the one who would come and save her people from their Roman oppressors. This savior had been prophesied about eons ago and the Jews had been waiting hundreds of years for their savior. I’m sure that Anna’s fasting and prayers included expressions of longing for this Messiah.
Yet year after year went by, and life continued to be full of the same struggles. I would think there were times when Anna got discouraged, when she felt like it was a hopeless situation. After all, she was human. But even amidst possible discouragement and feelings of hopelessness, Anna continued her practice of sacred waiting. Day in and day out Anna was present to God as she fasted and prayed. And day in and day out Anna served God as she prophesied at the temple. She waited in hope for her Savior.
And when Mary and Joseph brought their infant son Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord, Anna saw him and knew then that her longings were going to be fulfilled through him. She expresses no doubts about Jesus being the Messiah. The scripture tells us that “at that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (vs.38) She had waited in hope for the long-expected Messiah, and when he came she stepped right into her role as prophet, the one who announces. She told everyone that the one they had been waiting for, for so long, was here.
Like Anna, we too wait for our Savior—we wait for the second coming of Christ, when the world will be made whole again, when we will be made whole again, when fighting and evil and pain will be no more. And we also wait for God to save us from ourselves…from our inability to slow down, from our constant grasping at stuff and people to try to fill our restlessness, from our need for control, to have it all figured out.
One of the most difficult things about waiting is not knowing how things are going to turn out. Anna believed the Messiah would come, but she didn’t know when or how.
And we don’t know in our own lives how things will turn out. We live as if we have control over the outcome of our lives. But one thing I have learned as I have waited over the past several years for a child, is that we are not in control. Being in a place of waiting helps us recognize this and gives us the opportunity to yield our lives more fully to Christ. We do not know what the outcome will be, and we experience doubts and disappointment as we wait. Even at times, feelings of hopelessness.
But what I have learned through my time of waiting is to remain faithful to God even though I do not understand, that waiting is about being sanctified—God changes us as we wait, though we may not have an awareness that we are being transformed.
During my season of waiting, Psalm 33:20-21 has been one of the prayers of my heart: “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.”
Our call during our seasons of waiting is to be present to God and willing to serve God. How will you practice this presence and service to God while you wait?