“Crisp holly with red berries – we are holy with hope” writes Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo. “We are holy with hope.” Words that stopped me short. Am I, are we, holy with hope in a world with out of control wild-fires, devastating floods, children in cages, families in exile, corruption, abuse, the list goes on. What do we hope for amidst so many horrors? Do we recognize when God answers our hopes, and our expectations for change and healing especially if God appears in unexpected people or places?
Today’s readings speak to us about expectations –preparing for them, recognizing their fulfillment, proclaiming them. Luke narrates a story demonstrating how expectations for redemption are recognized in an unexpected way: A story that begins with Mary and Joseph following Jewish law by presenting Jesus at the temple. For two elders of the Jewish community, Simeon and Anna, this ordinary, required ritual – the presentation – revealed to them that the long-awaited Messiah has shown up, shown up in the infant Jesus.
Simeon understood he would not die until he saw the Messiah. Upon seeing Jesus, he recognized the fulfillment of that promise, and taking the baby Jesus into his arms blessed God. And in that blessing moved the outreach of Jesus’ future ministry not just to the Israelites but also to the Gentiles. For many church goers this is where the story will end, with Simeon’s canticle of praise. But the lectionary has two options for today: a shorter version and a longer version that continues the presentation story. Therefore, as radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, “And now for the rest of the story.”
Luke continues his narrative by telling us that Mary and Joseph are amazed at Simeon’s words about Jesus. This had me wondering why? Joseph’s amazement I get, but Mary’s? We heard during Advent that she said, “Yes, let it be done to me according to your will,” when she was told she would bear the Messiah. Her amazement points to the possibility, that even Mary’s fiat, like every major commitment, needed to be made again and again. A commitment to seeing anew how God is working. Maybe she needed Simeon’s witness as much as Simeon needed to see Jesus.
Additionally, in the longer presentation story we meet Anna. Anna is easy to overlook, since Simeon seems to have the larger role, a speaking one. Paying attention to how Simeon with a speaking role proclaims Jesus as Messiah, we might miss and overlook Anna, the quieter presence who also proclaims Jesus as the Messiah.
So, who is Anna? She is named prophetess, like Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah, female prophets before her. Luke speaks to Anna’s prophetic lineage which recalls prophets who see God face to face, who proclaim and announce that encounter. Anna is a widow, one of the “poor ones” of Israel, who rely on God.
We know this Anna by her actions – worshipping, fasting, praying, waiting – all actions performed in the temple as she waited for the redemption of Jerusalem, as she waited to see God’s revelation to God’s people, waited to see God face to face, and then proclaim the fulfillment of the promises made in Isaiah. Promises we heard just recently in Advent.
Anna saw the fulfillment of God’s promises in the infant Jesus, vulnerable and dependent on others; she saw God face to face in the vulnerability and dependence of a child, and “She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).”
Both Simeon and Anna wait for the Messiah, recognize the Messiah, speak about him, and praise God. Both witness “the expectation of Israel fulfilled in Jesus.” Simeon speaks for himself, speaks to Mary and Joseph. Anna goes and speaks to the community and whomever will listen about the infant Jesus. She proclaims God’s presence in Jesus to the community.
She is older, aged like Elizabeth, Zachariah, and Simeon. None of whom probably saw the salvation and redemption that would come from the ministry of the infant Jesus, “who grew and became strong, filled with wisdom . . .. (Luke 2:40).”
What does the presentation and revelation of God, as witnessed by Anna, mean for us today? Anna challenges us when we are tempted to despair and lose hope. By attending to Anna’s story, we are asked can we wait with her for an undetermined period of time? Can we prepare with fasting and prayer? Can we develop a willingness to see the infancy of God’s promises being incarnated into the world, a world awaiting and needing restoration, reconciliation, redemption, and peace? And then when God arrives, in persons young, vulnerable, and needing care, can we recognize that we are seeing God face to face, give thanks, and proclaim God’s presence in our midst to others awaiting redemption, even as we continue to hope for God’s promises to be fully realized?
Joy Harjo Quote from “Walk” in Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems (W.W. Norton & Company, NY: 2015), pp 40
Kathy Lilla Cox
Kathy Lilla Cox is a Research Associate and Visiting Scholar at the University of San Diego. After earning her PhD in Theology from Fordham University, she taught undergraduates from 2007 to 2018 in central MN at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. During the same period, she taught graduate students at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary (Collegeville, MN).
She authored Water Shaping Stone: Faith, Relationships, and Conscience Formation (Liturgical Press, 2015). Her most recent essays include: “Beyond ‘Cannot Be Resolved’: Considering Ways Forward for Frozen Embryos” In Putting God on the Map: Theology and Conceptual Mapping, Erin S. Kidd and Jakob Karl Rinderknecht eds. (Lexington Books, 2018); and “Infertility: A Lens for Discerning Parenthood in Marriage” in Sex, Love, and Families, Jason King and Julie Hanlon Rubio eds. (Liturgical Press, 2020).
Her research interests include fundamental moral theology, marriage and infertility, moral formation, feminist ethics, spirituality and discipleship, and Benedictine approaches to moral theology. She is working on several essays exploring what the Rule of St. Benedict offers for understanding the relationship between morality, spirituality, and Christian discipleship.
She enjoys cooking, golfing, reading fiction and poetry, exploring the many hiking trails in San Diego, and spending time with her spouse as well as their extended family.
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