30 December – Pass it on

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She 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. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 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.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
(Luke 2.36-40)

The story has moved on. This passage is from the end of the account of the presentation of Christ in the Temple. There are two principal characters in that story, apart from the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Simeon was an old man, righteous and devout, who looked for the coming of the one God had promised. Then there was Anna, a prophet, who features in this passage.

I love Anna. I love the way we are given a little story of her life. Even in our own society in which we can all expect to live so much longer, Anna was doing very well. Sixty may be the new forty but eighty-four is not bad going. And we can imagine that having only been married for seven years before being widowed life will have been hard. She may well have been supported, as a widow, by family and friends but maybe not.

Proud Anna in the background of Rembrant's image of her and Simeon

Proud Anna in the background of Rembrant’s image of her and Simeon

When the early church was being formed there was the need to create an order of ministers to do the pastoral, servant ministry of the church. Stephen, whose feast day we celebrated on Boxing Day, was one of that first group of deacons. Their task was to look after the poor and we are told that there was a particular issue that faced the community with regard to widows and the daily distribution of food (Acts 6.1). St Paul later writing to the infant churches often turns his attention to widows, how they should behave, who should look after them. Widows were high on the agenda of the church because they could be a completely unsupported group in society.

So Anna may have had it hard. But she was obviously a survivor. She spent all her time in the Temple and she was a prophet, she fasted and prayed all the time. So we can imagine that people knew her and people listened to her. In the account of the Presentation, Anna comes onto the scene and praises God and speaks. But then she does something else.

I used to go as a teenager for my retreats to Launde Abbey in Leicestershire. I distinctly remember one of those retreats and what was said, though, sadly, I can’t remember the name of the priest who was leading us. But he told us, and I liked this so much that I had to write it on a piece of paper and put it up on the noticeboard in my room at home, that we were to ‘Keep the rumour of God alive.’

Rumours spread, very quickly, ever more quickly, thanks to social media. You can fuel a rumour, keep it going, keep it alive. The retreat conductor used that word ‘rumour’ in a way that caught our attention, certainly caught my attention – ‘Keep the rumour of God alive.’

'Pass it on.'

‘Pass it on.’

This is what Anna does. She goes off and tells those who would listen, those who like her and Simeon, were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem, that the redeemer had come, that God’s promise had been fulfilled, that a child had been born. She kept the rumour alive.

We might call it mission, we might call it evangelism, we might simply call it, telling other people about Jesus. The church needs to be a rumour-mill for Christ, keeping the story going, keeping the truth being told, learning from a woman of experience and spreading the word. We made the journey to Bethlehem to see a child. Don’t keep it to yourself – tell others what you know of God. Keep the rumour of alive.

Lord, as you gave Anna the passion to speak of you,
give us that same desire
to tell others of you
and your love,
to keep the rumour alive.
Amen.

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