And now its the next day. And then the day after that.
In previous posts I wrote about how the lead up to Christmas can make it seem like Christmas is the climax, the end of the story of our waiting. And it is. And it also is not. If Christmas is the answer it is not like any answer we have come to expect. It is a non-answer, a whispered answer, an answer ushered in through the back door, talked about by people we don’t know if we can trust. It is a glorious moment, a brilliant call and chorus shone into the dark followed by a lot of quiet. Christmas is more like a doorway. Through which we could walk, if we wanted. And on the other side….well, we can just keep walking. Like Mary, like Joseph, like Elizabeth, Simeon and like Anna, like the shepherds. On the other side of this door is a baby being fed, being changed, crying, sleeping and a mother and father trying to figure it out, trying to make ends meet, trying to fulfill all the expectations, to process all the dreams, to wait with all that knowing in their hearts as normal life just goes. Normal life and also hard life and good life.
But now…..well, now we HAVE gone through that door. That Christmas door swung open. And as we passed through, something grabbed our attention. Something about that baby made us remember…..Something in that glorious shot in the dark woke us up.
I read about Anna this week. Anna, the very old woman who lived at the temple. You may have read about her, but most of us have never really thought about her. I hadn’t. She was there when Jesus was presented at the temple. She was always there.
“There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now 84 years old and never left the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came up just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.” Luke 2:36-38
In this small text, a lot of time is spent making clear that she was old. That she was alone, and had been a long time. We don’t know if she had children. If she did, they weren’t part of her life now. We do know that she lived at the temple. Praying, waiting, hoping. She was there all the time. She saw a lot of small boys being brought to the temple. Every day boys would be brought to be consecrated by their young parents, just trying to do the right thing.
I think of Mary and her young womb that carried that baby. And then I think of Anna, and her old womb, empty, unfilled, always praying, always waiting, always hoping, aging day after day. Advent is Mary – the quiet yes, the yielding, the fulfillment. But Advent is also Anna–the quiet loneliness, the day after day after day fast, that blind-corner kind of waiting.
And then one day, one of those babies, unspeaking and watching, was carried through the doors, she was coming up the stairs and around the corner and she saw him, and she knew. How did she know? How did she know this was the one she had been waiting for?
How did she know that this one, this baby whose own hands fascinated him, was the one, the one promised to fill, to repair, to restore, to make way, to bring light, to make straight, to grow all anew?
Maybe, and I say this because in some sense I know that I know this, and in some sense we all know this, maybe she felt her own carved out waiting-ness being filled. Being filled out. Maybe that place inside her, her old womb, was filled with something the newly pregnant know. Maybe it was that knowing, secret, given power of something quickening inside you.
Maybe it was a remembering.
Maybe, when she saw him, she remembered something, from when she was a child, something about who she was, about all that she knew she was, and was created as; about all that she knew her days had been given to.
This is how it is when we recognize Jesus. We all remember something in that carved out place within us. We experience that swelling, that filling in our deepest memories and we are propelled through that Christmas door.
Anna waited, old. Anna waited, old, with the shape of her life carved out by the sameness, the hunger, the hope. She was one of a long line of women overlooked by their world but who knew and saw and recognized the very face of God when he entered their line of sight. Sarah and also Hagar. Ruth and also Naomi. Mary and also Anna. That Samaritan woman. That mother. That daughter. You. Me.
Something in us knows when we are known, knows when our own carved out hollows are filling. And we praise all that we know to be God at that time. And we try to find out what He is doing. And then after that, we keep walking; still hollowed out, still not completely aware of the fullness that is possible, but we walk through because there was something we recognized. And something that keeps us going. And something we keep remembering. And something just keeps filling us.
When an old woman is seen by God, and when an old woman sees God, that is a very powerful thing. That is where He loves to speak, where he loves to fill. Listen to what those women say. Today at church a woman, an older woman in our community stood up to tell us all a long story about another woman that lived with her in the seniors home. And this woman was reading a book about another woman who was received a promise from God when she was a baby. In this story, within a story, within our dear friend’s Story, the woman didn’t see fruition until much much later in her life. And in that story, our friend saw life and promise and God – so much so that she stood up in front of us all to tell us. Pay attention when the old women speak my friends. They know something about walking in that day after day advent, and recognizing the face of God when they see it re-member-ing them back to themselves.
The Prophetess Anna, 1631, Rembrandt
The following quotes I came across in the few hours after posting the above…..amazing.
“In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness.
It was waiting. Waiting to be filled up.
Waiting for someone to love it.”
–the opening lines from Whale Rider
“Still the longing for the “old, old story” remains; whatever is in the bottom of the heart, stays there.”
— from Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo
–I thought they were appropriate and beautiful and weirdly timely–