While I always plan Advent or Lenten spiritual exercises to prepare myself for Christmas or Easter, I usually eat my way through the Christmas season! This year God planned Christmas meditations as a feast for me. This Christmas season He wanted me to ponder the concepts of “keeping a vigil in God’s time” and “being a herald”. Although I’ve heard Luke’s infancy narrative many times, new Truths revealed themselves to me as a Christmas gift. This year, at daily Mass during the Octave of Christmas, my daughter poked me as Luke 3: 36-38 (telling the story of the prophetess Anna) was proclaimed. “Didn’t we just hear that on Sunday?” she asked. “Yes, indeed,” I replied; only, today the Holy Spirit, through Anna, spoke to me. I recognized her as one who kept a vigil and heralded the King of Kings.
Luke tells us that Anna was married for 7 years (biblically seven is a perfect number, therefore, she was married the perfect length of time.) I theorize that she was married at 14 years of age, which was within the custom of her culture. Therefore, she must have spent 70 years (another perfect number) in the temple praying and fasting until she reached the age of 84. God’s perfect timing is evidenced in this woman who trusted Divine Providence while she prayed and sacrificed. Perhaps unknown to herself, she was preparing for all those years to recognize the salvation of Israel and then had the spiritual zeal to herald the news to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
In ancient times a Herald would keep watch for the king, prepare the way for him, and trumpet his arrival. In some ways the prophetess Anna parallels John the Baptist. They both spent time in seclusion praying and fasting. John acted as the herald who prepared the way of the Lord by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Anna also reminded me of the shepherds “living in the field (exiled) and keeping the night watch over their flock” (Luke 2: 8). During the faithful fulfillment of their duties, the angel of the Lord appeared to them and proclaimed “Good news of great joy… for today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord… When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child” (Luke 2: 10-11,17). Like the shepherds, Anna, while living God’s will for her, saw, believed, and announced the good news.
Like the Biblical figures, God is preparing us for our mission. His time must be respected as perfect for His purposes. We may not know what His plan for us is, but we must live faithfully and hopefully each day just like Anna who worshiped and prayed and fasted for, in my estimation, 70 years.
Although I took “Anne” as my confirmation name, I have failed to live up to my namesakes over the years. Anna is a variant of Hannah. It means: gracious, favored one, prayerful, and one who gives. The prophet Samuel’s mother was named Hannah. We know from 1 Samuel that Hannah was faithful, yet infertile. She went yearly to the temple and offered sacrifices to God. She also prayed for a child whom she would dedicate to God’s service. Eventually she gave birth to Samuel, who recognized and anointed David as king. In addition, tradition tells us that the grandmother of Jesus was a barren woman named Anna. She, too, waited patiently until God chose to give her offspring: a daughter who would become the Mother of God. In Luke’s gospel, I believe Anna’s given name is meant to harken back to the Old Testament Hannah. All these women animate and fulfill the promise of their name.
Unlike me, the faithful prophetess Anna never left the temple. We are told she “worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer” (Luke 2:37). Scripture does not tell us what Anna hoped to attain by worshiping God ceaselessly. I think she wanted to behold the Face of God. Indeed she did. However, more importantly, she recognized the infant she beheld as the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Then she heralded His arrival to those who awaited salvation.
At times I have fallen into self-pity and lacked a thankful heart. I have failed to recognize God working in my life. Through neglect, I have prayed less than I needed to pray, relied on myself, and suffered the consequences. However, God never abandoned me but wrote me into my own “Prodigal Son” story. Some call this Gospel story “The Faithful Father.” As with John the Baptist, the Shepherds, and Anna, sometimes God does dramatically enter our lives and reveal His face.
Years ago our family was in desperate need — or so I thought — of a 15-passenger van for our expanding family. I felt completely discouraged when, after the birth of my 6th child, my husband went to the junk yard, bought a 3 row bench and screwed it into my Dodge Caravan in place of the 2 seat bench. He proclaimed with pride, “Now you have your Suburban!” I laughed, but wasn’t entirely amused. Over the next 2 years the minivan broke down repeatedly even as it logged thousands of miles. Then one day in late March, “I jokingly shook my finger up to heaven and proclaimed, “God, you need to make a 15-passenger van fall from the sky!” Less than an hour later I was sitting in the rain, very pregnant, surrounded by 6 kids, in a minivan whose axle had broken for the 3rd time. I shook my finger again up to heaven and said, “God, you sure have a sense of humor!” A friend drove us in two batches to the Bible study I was leading that Ash Wednesday morning.
At 168,492 miles, the Caravan had died. Amazingly, I felt no angst or fear about being a one-compact-car family. Even if we needed several roundtrips to transport our family, I knew God would provide. After years of anxiety about lack of money for a van and jealousy when smaller families loaded into a 15-passenger van, I knew we’d be okay. Peace reigned in my soul. God would provide. I just knew it. Exactly 5 days later, on a Monday, my husband unexpectedly returned home from work several hours early. He gathered us together exclaiming, “Family meeting, everybody! Family meeting!” I started crying, “It’s the van! It’s the van! I know it’s the van!” (I still begin to weep in retelling the story.) Indeed, a 15-passenger van HAD fallen from the sky in the form of 30 thousand dollars wired by my mother-in-law! Furthermore, we had never told her about the dead Dodge Caravan! The 2001 Chevy Express, direct from Detroit, invoiced at $29,372. We could even afford the property tax and gas!
God’s timing was, indeed, perfect. My 7th child and the 15-passenger van joined our family together. God had tested my faith and patience for several years and I had failed. However, He never lost faith in me. Finally, when I clung to His Divine Will exclusively, the van arrived. I joyfully received the gift with a contrite heart, while praising God. I am convinced God allowed me to despair so that I could glorify His name and share the story of my weakness and His infinite goodness.
Like Mary, I will continue to ponder the lessons learned this Christmas. I received them as a gift during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I will receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with fervor, knowing that while He dwells in the temple of my soul, there is no time, only eternity. I can go into the mansion He has prepared for me and keep watch for Him during the duties of my day. I can see Him in the harried commuters, the frazzled carpooling moms, the worldly neighbor. I can proclaim Him with charity when asked whether I “know all their [my 11 children’s] names.” I can announce Him to those who enter my house and see crucifixes and statues of Mary and the saints as my décor along with a plaque which reads, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). I can bring him to those watching my banged up 15 passenger van whiz by with bumper stickers proclaiming, “A nation who kills its own children is a nation without hope!” (John Paul II). God provides infinite ways to herald Him for each moment in time for, “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
We are all like Anna in that we are called to “stay awake” and “watch” repeatedly in scripture so that we can recognize Christ when He is passing by. Through frequent reception of the sacraments, including not only fulfilling the Sunday obligation but sacrificial daily Mass attendance, confession, daily scripture reading and meditation (preferably with a guide such as the In Conversation With God series by Fr. Francis Fernandez) or the monthly Magnificat booklet, and praying the Rosary we will be able to go forth and “make disciples of all nations”. Jesus is with us “until the end of the age” because there is no time in eternity. However, we live in time, therefore He prepares us daily to accept and fulfill His will for our lives. Our duty as baptized Christians is to keep the vigil so we can see and believe. Then we can announce every day with Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord!”