A Widow’s Christmas
The worst Christmas I ever had was the year my first husband died. It wasn’t the loneliness that did me in; it was the self-pity.
As a young widow, I was faced with raising my four-year-old daughter alone. I didn’t know for whom I felt worse—her or me.
I knew I couldn’t stay home. So I packed our things, loaded up my car, and made the long drive from New Jersey to North Carolina to spend the holiday with my mother-in-law and my husband’s family, as we had always done when James was living. As usual, everyone was wonderful to us. But it’s easy to be miserable when you decide to feel sorry for yourself.
Looking back on that Christmas twenty years ago, I realize that God was bringing me through something, so He could bring me to something. The lovable American baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “Sports is 50 percent physical and 90 percent mental.” Although his percentages didn’t add up, his point was well taken.
The apostle Paul made almost the same point when he said, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Life is filled with profound agonies that God uses to conform us to the image of Christ for our good and His glory. And though widowhood is lonely, it is not a curse unless you make it so. The Lord loves widows deeply and reserves for them extraordinary blessings that many other women never receive—providing they set their minds on walking with Him.
Anna was such a widow. The entire Bible contains only three verses about her, but they have exalted her for more than two thousand years as a woman who put God ahead of self and service ahead of self-pity:
And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, who departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day (Lk. 2:36–37).
Some say Anna was eighty-four. But I doubt it. She was probably more than one hundred years old—“of a great age”—and had been a widow eighty-four years.1 Jewish women were eligible to marry when they turned twelve. She likely married young and was widowed in her twenties. The Bible does not say if she had children. Nor does it say who supported her.
But during the four hundred “silent” years, when God sent neither prophet nor angelic messenger to His people Israel, there was Anna—a prophetess. Undoubtedly, He blessed her with a remarkable, personal relationship with the God of all creation. She communicated with Him faithfully, diligently, and daily, “with fastings and prayers night and day”; and He communicated with her. Her life revolved around the Temple and service to her Lord.
Anna lived in Jerusalem during the Roman occupation. But she had seen better days. She was born when the Hasmoneans ruled (140–63 B.C.); and she knew what it was like to live in an independent, Jewish Judea. The Hasmoneans descended from Judah “Maccabee,” whose guerrilla fighters eventually forced the Seleucid kingdom to grant the Jewish nation its freedom.
Although not descendants of David, the Hasmoneans brought much of the ancient land of Israel under their control, plus Idumea (Edom), and spread Jewish influence in all directions. The Pharisees, however, considered them too secular. And some circles particularly repudiated their rule, feeling that the royal crown “was reserved for the House of David only.”2
Anna had lived through the Roman conquest of Jerusalem, when Roman General Pompey swept into the Holy Land in 63 B.C., stationed mechanical engines and battering rams inside the walls, and fiercely pummeled the Temple with stones. Pompey finally took Jerusalem from the Jews after a three-month siege, seized the Temple, and entered the Holy of Holies.3 Wrote the ancient historian Flavius Josephus, “Of the Jews there fell twelve thousand; but of the Romans very few.”4 So ended some eighty years of independent Jewish rule.
Yet, despite all her grief, both personal and national, Anna never doubted that God would keep His promises. She served him willingly, believed wholeheartedly that someday He would redeem Israel, and “spoke of him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Lk. 2:38).
Consequently, God, who helps widows (Ps. 146:9), executes justice for them (Dt. 10:18), condemns those who prey on them (Isa. 10: 2), and always hears their cries (Ex. 22:23), reached out to a faithful widow in Jerusalem on that first “Christmas” and let her behold the One who would redeem her people Israel.
Anna could not have understood the magnitude of the blessing she received that day. Many years earlier she had witnessed the destruction of Jewish independence. Now God allowed her to see not only the One who will restore the Jewish nation, but the legitimate heir to the throne of David, God Himself— the One who will someday rule the Davidic Kingdom and the world forever.
The Bible says that man is “born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Life is not easy. For many, particularly at Christmas, life may seem like one long road of heartache and pain. Anna chose not to look down that road, but to fix her eyes on the Lord and serve Him fully. Like Anna, we should do likewise until that blessed day when we, too, shall behold His face.
- Herbert Lockyer, All the Women of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.), 30.
- Encyclopaedia Judaica, CD-Rom Edition, s.v. “Hasmonean Rule.”
- Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4.2–4.
- Ibid., 14.4.4.