Anna is another biblical character that you may not have heard of. First of all, she's the daughter of a man named Phanuel. Wellness check: Phanuel's parents when it was time to sign the birth certificate.
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36–38
This short passage on Anna tells us a lot about her. An elderly widow, Anna knew pain. Her husband died many years before, so she had been lonely for a long time. She knew what it felt like to lose someone so close and to be burdened with grief. I can't imagine her sorrow of losing the beloved person you share a name and a life with.
Not only was Anna grieving; she was waiting. Anna was longing for the hope of a Messiah with no end in sight. Despite her pain and her sorrow and her waiting, Anna was clearly a regular at the temple—fasting and praying nonstop. Amidst the sadness she knew so well, Anna clung to the mysterious promises of God.
And at the same time the radiant newborn King is being presented in the temple, this grieving widow is there, too. It's a paradox if you think about it: a new life and a life that has experienced years of heartache. A fresh soul and a weary soul. The fulfillment of Israel and one who was desperate for its redemption.
As she sees little Jesus, Anna starts praising God and spreading the good news that Christ has come. She feels the fulfillment of Christ despite years and years of Israel's waiting. In the presence of Jesus, and amidst her sorrow, Anna experiences joy that only a Savior could bring.
Ann Voskamp said, "Struggling and rejoicing are not two chronological steps, one following the other, but two concurrent movements, one fluid with the other. As the cold can move you deeper toward the fire, struggling can move you deeper toward God, who warms you with joy. Struggling can deepen joy."
You don't have to be full of Christmas spirit today to experience the joy of Advent. You don't have to be overflowing with praise to receive this gift. You don't have to be reading this from halls that are decked and walls that are filled. You don't have to have Christmas cookies in the oven and all of your gifts wrapped under the tree.
That's the thing about Advent: it's not just about remembering that first Advent in Bethlehem. It's not about being organized and rested. It's not about singing "It's the most wonderful time of the year." It's not about being filled with yuletide cheer in order to rejoice. It's joy for our worst days, our best days, and every day in between.
Your circumstances may not have changed this Advent. You may be mediating a hurtful family spat. You may be right in the middle of a long season of waiting. You may feel so much weight on your shoulders that it feels like any season other than Christmas.
But hope has come.
Hope came for Israel. Hope came for Anna's grieving, tired soul. And hope has come for all of us who find ourselves lacking the joy this season is supposed to bring.
No matter what you are experiencing today, there is joy to be found in the coming of Christ. Joy that doesn't deny your pain, but that carries you through it. Joy that doesn't ignore suffering, but reminds you that one day the suffering will end. Joy that is not in the gifts under the tree, the money in the bank, or the lofty expectations of this season vs. the painful realities, but joy that is in a newborn King who came to redeem all the weight we carry this Advent.
"Let earth receive her King!"