We read about Anna in Luke 2:36-38. We are told that this woman was a prophet. The way we are told this is significant: ‘there was also a prophet’ implies that Simeon, who has just spoken prophetically, was not a prophet. Anyone upon whom the Holy Spirit rests might, from time to time, speak prophetically, speak God-given words for God; and this is what Simeon appears to have done*. But prophets are somewhat different. Being a prophet is not so much about what you say, as about your manner of being in the world. If anyone ever thought to write down Anna’s words, they have long-since been lost. As it is, we know of only one occasion on which she spoke prophetically—about the child Jesus, to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
What is striking about Anna is that her vocation, at least in the season of life of her old age, is primarily expressed by her continual presence in the temple**. By her faithful, unshakeable, visible life of worship, of fasting and prayer, night and day. She had become a fixture in the temple, as much as the stone or gold.
Her presence spoke: specifically, something about her presence spoke to those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem—who were longing and aching for something to be released into blessing—who were drawn to her, and to whom she was, at last, able to speak about Jesus when he appeared in the temple. Something about her presence held out both invitation and challenge to them.
It strikes me that there are more prophets in out midst than we might have realised, masquerading as little old ladies, as octogenarian widows; and, perhaps, the odd man.
*Perhaps he was an evangelist, who recognised good news when he saw it. Perhaps he was an apostle, who saw beyond the boundaries of his own community. Perhaps he was a shepherd, whose heart broke knowing that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart. Perhaps he was a teacher, whose bones were marinated in scripture. We don’t have enough information to say, for sure; but the text does seem to suggest that whatever he was, he wasn’t a prophet.
**It is not clear whether she has been there for all the years of her widowhood, or from more recently—though she has certainly been resident in the temple long enough to be noteworthy.