When I first met Caroline her grandmother (i.e. father’s mother) was still alive.
She was a real character. Welsh to her finger-tips, Caroline & I called her ‘Nain’ – and our children called her ‘Hen-Nain’.
Her husband had been minister of a large Welsh-speaking Baptist church, before going to the Baptist College in Cardiff where he eventually became its Principal.
Unfortunately he had died in his early 60s – with the result that Caroline’s Nain, who by that stage was in her late 80s – had been widowed for a good number of years.
Caroline’s Nain reminds me of Anna, one of the lesser characters in the nativity story.
Luke 2.36-38: “There was a very old prophet, a widow named Anna… she had been married for only seven years and was now 84 years old. she never left the Temple; day & night she worshipped God, fasting & praying. That very hour she arrived and gave thanks to God, and spoke about the child to all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free”
Like Caroline’s Nain, she was an elderly widow
We are told that “she had been married for only seven years and was now 84 years old” – in fact she might have been even older than 84 – for the underlying Greek is a little ambiguous and could be translated: “she had been married for only seven years and had been a widow 84 years”. If this latter translation is right, then would have been just over 100 – for in those days girls tended to get married around 12 years old – add 7 years of marriage + another 84 years and we get 103! Wow! No wonder Luke speaks of her being “very old”!
At any time its hard to lose your life partner
But it must be particularly hard to lose a husband after only seven years of marriage, particularly in a society where there was no social security & no widow’s benefits.
Life must have been very tough for Anna.
But significantly, her difficulties do not appear to have made her turn her back on God – rather she turned to God. Luke tells us that “she never left the Temple; day and night she worshipped God, fasting and praying”.
We must beware of being over-literal – I don’t think Luke is trying to say that she never ever went home – indeed, on that particularly day when Mary & Joseph came with Jesus it appears that she had just arrived in the Temple – she didn’t actually live in the Temple, but rather, she took every opportunity to be present at worship.
In our terms, she was a lady who attended every service, belonged to a fellowship group – and of course belonged to the Thursday fellowship.
Some people, when tragedy strikes and a loved one dies, give up on God.
They become hard & bitter & blame God for the injustice they feel they have suffered.
The older they grow, the more resentful they become.
They are not happy people to be around.
But Anna was different. Instead of turning away from God, she turned to God.
And in so doing I believe that she became a kinder, softer, more sympathetic woman.
Indeed, I like to think she lived up to her name – Anna – Grace!
With the passing of the years most if not all of us will have experienced hard times – we will have known the pain of sorrow and disappointment.
How have we dealt with it? Or should I say: ‘How do we deal with it?’
Do we allow the difficulties of life to distance us from God – or to bring us to God?
Let Anna be our model
Then at the age of 84 – or was she even older? – something special happened to Anna. She met Jesus. For there in the temple she met Mary & Joseph who had brought their new-born son “to present him to the Lord”.
In her time Anna must have seen 100s of babies brought to the temple. But Anna, along with Simeon, was given the insight to realise that this was no ordinary baby.
This was God’s Messiah – this was the one for whom she and Simeon and other devour Jews had been waiting for years – at last the one who was going to set God’s people free had arrived!
As I look around me this afternoon I cannot fail to notice that I am surrounded by a group of ladies who for the most part belong to the older generation.
True, you may not have reached your 80s, but you have certainly left your 20s.
My prayer for you is that like Anna, you too will recognise the Saviour.
That you too will realise that this baby whose birth we celebrate is not any old baby, but rather the one who can set us free – free from the grip of sin and death.
One of the things I remember most about Caroline’s Nain was that she often quoted some lines of Robert Browning, lines which apparently her husband had often quoted to her: “Grow old along with me/ The best is yet to be”
That was certainly true for Anna.
For Anna, her last years were her best years – for it was then, in those closing years of her life, that she met the Saviour.
But Anna did not simply meet the Saviour
She went on to tell other people about the Saviour. “She spoke about the child to all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free”. Actually, the English translation misleading – for it could imply that she onlyh spoke once to others about Jesus – whereas the Greek uses a past continuous (imperfect) tense – “she kept speaking”!
Yes, Anna provides us with quite a model.