How Christmas Began #8


I was called Anna, but my real name was Hanah. It was sort of descriptive of me. In the language of my Hebrew ancestors my name stood for “grace.” Believe me, I had to learn to be gracious. It was not easy. I was a very young bride and after seven years of marriage I lost my husband. Now I am eighty-four. All these years, I remained a widow. I was not able nor was I interested in a second marriage. Good men were scarce and bad ones were unfaithful and unreliable. My husband gave his life for the freedom of Israel. He had believed in the redemption of Israel but he followed a false deliverer. He was not of God. Had he been then the death of my husband would have been reward enough. So many of our men were being misled and ended in an early grave. The Romans were too many and too powerful to be driven from our land. What we needed was another Moses or another King David.

My family name precedes the history of my people. The Greek “Phanuel” stems from the Hebrew “Penuel” or “Peniel.” Our ancestor Jacob wrestled with an angel of the Lord and called the place Peniel. He had “faced God” and did not know it. He and Lea’s maid Zilpah fathered Asher, head of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Asher had a special meaning, namely “to be a bearer of salvation.” Unfortunately, when my tribe settled in Canaan, it bordered the prosperous coastal region and fell to the influence of Tyre. My branch of the family escaped being paganized by moving to Jerusalem while the Temple was being built and remained behind as servants of God’s house. To the pagans my family name Phanuel meant “a god of fortune.” Our ancestors were industrious craftsmen, traders and workers and added greatly to the prosperity of the region. My ancestors were some of the people that the king of Tyre sent to Solomon to build the Temple. King Solomon gave part of our land and some twenty towns to the King of Tyre for services rendered. Materially my people were blessed, but spiritually they were dead to the faith of our fathers.

I did not to give up on my faith. I began to live up to the name of Asher. I became a prophetess. My mission was to proclaim the coming of our Deliverer. I stationed myself in the Temple and spoke to those that were willing to listen. The Temple had become my home. I stayed there day and night. I worshipped God with all my heart and strength. When I did not share my hope for the coming of our Messiah, I fasted and prayed a lot. I found enormous cleansing in fasting. It helped me to identify with the needy in my world and there were so many of us. We were orphans and widows with no one to care for us. Many times I fasted because there was nothing to eat. Then there were times I fasted because I had fed someone else. When I fasted, I thought of the prophets that had gone through similar trials and temptations. Above all I felt I was doing it for my people. I prayed for their delivery and not for mine. So many had given up hope in a Messiah. I was there to remind them that God would not renege on His promises. I had done this all my life. Now I too was close to the end and where was that promised deliverer? God does not seem to be bothered by time. This was hard for me to grasp, but I kept on believing and prophesying.

During the years, I had witnesses many dedications of children. But this dedication was different. What made it different was the excitement my friend Simeon was experiencing. I had never seen old Simeon in such a jolly mood. I had to see for myself and hurried over to find out what was moving him? There he was holding up a “Male Child” in his arms and making predictions to the audience and the parents of the child that astonished the listeners and puzzled the parents. He was not only moved himself, but he attracted and enthusiastic crowd. He was showing off the “Baby Boy” and those that looked upon the child in his arms felt elated and strangely warmed. At least that was what I felt in my heart when I too approached the parents and their baby boy. I too felt the urging in my spirit as I had never before. Instantly a number of prophecies flashed through my mind that this child had to be the “Chosen One of God! And this was He.” There was no doubt that this child was surrounded by a mysterious love. The little “Baby Boy” radiated a mysterious pull. I felt drawn to him and began to say things I never thought I would. I found myself agreeing with what Simeon was saying. I was completely overcome by a Spirit that brought peace to my restless heart. At long last, the Lord God was compensating me for all the years of living for Him by allowing me to look upon His Deliverer for my beloved Jerusalem.

I must have stunned my friends and acquaintances. They must have wondered what had happened to sad and somber Anna? Something wonderful had happened. My fasting and prayers were turned into joyous praises to God. I had met His Messiah and was given the opportunity to announce Him to my people. I had not waited in vain for our Deliverer. I had the greatest reason to praise the Lord God of our fathers to come through once again in a time of need. Yes, I was celebrating. The Deliverer had come as had Moses as a baby. God was working another miracle and I was privileged to see it begin. Like Simeon, I too knew that I would not see how God would deliver our people when the Baby Savior has become a man. I did go back in my mind and wondered what powerful acts the Messiah in the defeat of the Romans would do. I did believe with all my heart in the all-powerful God of our fathers. And like Egypt, Rome would be no match for Him.

I had become a witness in identifying the “Baby King” of the Jews and when we heard what Herod’s soldiers had done to Bethlehem and Ramah, we too were in danger for our lives. Fortunately, I did not know where the parents had taken Jesus and I prayed that our enemies would not find the Baby King. This was one time my prophesying caused me to worry that I might have disclosed what God wanted to keep secret. I became more cautious and made no mention of the prophecy that the parents could have gone to Egypt. It also reassured my faith in God’s protection and that the Deliverer would come out of Egypt. I then continued praising and thanking God quietly that He had begun to undertake our deliverance. I also hoped that it would not take another forty years, as it did under Moses.