Luke 2:36-38 (NRSV)

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

During Advent, we crane our weary necks and look far back into those dark days preceding the coming of the Messiah. The transforming power of The Story is that it isn’t a red carpet parade of A-list luminaries. No, the Gospel is peopled by nobodies. Forgotten ones. Little people in a BIG STORY.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said there is no history, only biography. In the Gospel of Luke we learn of one of the little biographies with big impact, Anna. Her biblical allotment? Three verses!Anna

By contemporary standards, Anna had all the wrong characteristics…

She was old. We don’t really like old. We prefer new and fresh; dripping with the cutting-edge rhetoric of the trailblazer. Hers was a tidy, quiet, measured life of sameness and beautiful monotony.

She was a widow. In her context, there was a very real stereotype affixed to this role. She was utterly dependent on the largesse of others. Too often, even today, with loudly trumpeted “Christian values,” we dismissively toss them away into make-believe communities. Like so many, hers was a life of fulfilling, peopled loneliness.

She was a prophetess. Her soul spoke louder than her mind. Her heart directed her words. Her words provoked thoughtful actions.

She had no children. What could she know of such things as Virgin Birth and Holy Babes and the fears of parents on the run from despots? There’s nothing quite like an aging, celibate nun telling us how to run our marriage or raise our kids! But, Anna’s family was much broader than just “her” kids.

She had no real “life experience.” How can one who lived in the relative safety and swoony, liturgical spaces of the Temple be any good to those of us forced to work two jobs to pay a mortgage and a car payment, braces and soccer camp? She may be eighty-four, but what did she really know? Her experience was of Life, not life. Kairos outshone chronos.

She wasa nobody.” She came from a tribe that no one cared existed. If you’re going to say you are from one of the first families, don’t say this one. Tribe of Asher? I mean, come on! Anna’s contribution to the world was obscurity.

She had no big testimony. Big stories bring big crowds. Big crowds provide feigned notoriety. Devotion, love and gratitude were of concern to Anna.

This Advent, when days grow short and cold, dark nights coax out our longings, let us look to Anna. Her Immanuel life was a good idea then.

It’s still a good idea.

Image courtesy of Odyssey of an Albatross


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Robert Alan Rife

Robert Rife, M.A., minister of worship and music for Yakima Covenant Church (formerly Westminster Presbyterian) in Yakima, Washington, is a self-proclaimed book-nerd-word-herder, multi-instrumentalist (including Highland Bagpipes!), singer-songwriter, studio musician, choral director, poet, and liturgist. He maintains two personal blogs: Innerwoven and Robslitbits. He also blogs at Conversations Journal. Robert describes his vocation as exploring those places where life, liturgy, theology, and the arts intersect with and promote spiritual formation.

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