Advent Stories: The Prophetess

Never get old. It just isn’t worth it.

Really, the noise in the marketplace today! It would’ve deafened me if I weren’t already deaf. I could barely get to the women’s court in the temple. It must be those Zealots again, causing trouble. Young people these days. Barely have time to pray, but they think they’ll start a revolution!

Change is coming. I’m old. I hate change. I consider it a major deviation from my routine when I eat an extra spoonful of lentils for breakfast. But what sort of change it is, whether it will be for the better, I can’t say. These are dark days.

Anna

That’s why I come here, to the temple, every day at precisely the same time, and have for so many years I’ve lost count. Do you know there are still a few who try to get me to leave? “A woman’s place is in the home,” they say. Young people these days. They can’t name the Ten Commandments, but they can give you ten reasons why everything you’re doing is wrong.

Well, when you’re eighty-four and a widow with no family to care for, a woman’s place is right here, I say. Like Miriam. Like Hannah. Like Deborah. Like all the women of faith who praised the Lord while the men were out being patriarchs and warriors and kings. It gives us a purpose, we with no children to raise.

Will anyone remember me when I’m gone? Will anyone look around the women’s court and say, “Where is Anna?”

Simeon would. But, oh, some days I think Simeon is older than I am, or at least more worn out. The way he shuffles along, rasping out that the time is near, that the Messiah is coming.

He can die in peace now. He has seen him. So have I.

Did you pass by them, the ordinary-looking couple with the baby? The man was a bit scruffy—young people these days—but he brought his son to be dedicated as the Law commands, so I suppose that’s all right. The mother was young. So very young…. What was her name again?

“A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” That’s what Simeon said to her. I remember that much. Poor thing. Nervous young mother, and some crazy old man tells her the baby is going to save the world, and on top of that, her spirit will be crushed when it happens. Couldn’t just say, “Congratulations!” and leave it at that, not Simeon.

He’s a prophet, though. God has showed him things. He always knew he would see the Messiah before he died.

And what am I? Just a lonely widow, shuffling to the temple every morning, fasting because food has lost its taste anyway, praying because there’s no one else to listen to my mutterings.

Some days, I come feeling lost. “You are old, Anna,” I say to myself. “You are old and clinging to dried-out promises made by long-dead prophets. Your womb was empty. Your home is empty. Your words of praise…all empty. You come here each day, mouthing old, tired hymns to a God who no longer hears.”

And then…and then I sing the psalms anyway, with this voice, this old, quavering voice.

Because Miriam sang them when her people made bricks without straw…and then again when they were free. Because Hannah cried them when she crawled to the temple barren and abused…and then again when she gave her son back to God. Because Deborah shouted them over her timid, disobedient, persecuted countrymen…and again when he delivered them anyway.

The men, they can decree and proclaim and teach and command. But we women—we can sing. We sing back the things we don’t feel yet, the promises we believe because the Lord has done great things for us…and he will in the future, too.

The mother of the baby who will deliver us, she sang too. She sang over the baby as I held him, her own words, turned into lullabies for the little Savior. “He who is mighty has done great things for me, holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Beautiful.

She is so young. And if she is still singing, still praising God, still teaching the little ones …well, it might not be so bad after all. “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

These days, these dark days…the young people are all we have. I’ll be gone soon. So will Simeon. If no one tells them, if no one teaches them….

There I go again. Anna, where is your faith? Remember that little baby. I lived to see him, and that is a gift. The Spirit of God didn’t promise that to me like he did to Simeon. And yet I saw him anyway, with these old, failing eyes. I held him. I sang to him.

It may be that when I’m gone, no one will remember me. And that’s all right. Because they’ll remember him. He was what I was waiting for. What we were all waiting for.

I think, today, I will pray my favorite Psalm. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Yes, a woman’s place is in the home. And after all these years…this is home. This is home.

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