This year I'm blogging through Advent season. The goal is to put up a shorter post every day in December on topics related to the holiday, and I'd like to toy with some different media (music, poetry, art). I may not stay faithful to the format, we'll see, but I'd thank you to come along on the journey with me anyway. I hope this can enhance your Christmas experience as I'm sure it will mine.
|Here she is, my lovely sis!|
As I studied the Advent narrative in preparation for this month-long project I discovered a couple characters who don't get much attention during Christmas season. I wrote about one of them, Simeon, earlier in the month, and as I came around to the second, Anna, I saw the opportunity to include an outside perspective. And seeing as Anna is a superb example of a strong, faithful woman in the Scriptures, I thought I would enlist a strong, faithful woman in my own life to engage her story and provide some personal insights for all our benefit. I didn't have to look long or hard for one, as my sis is easily one of the strongest women I've ever met. What Mar put together for us is a brilliant little feminist critique on the story of Anna, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
"Anna the prophetess was also there [at the baby Jesus' presentation in the temple], a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem."
Few Christians, or non-Christians for that matter, can argue against the Bible being a bit of a boy's club. The few recognizable "token" women of the New Testament--Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary--diversify the scene somewhat, though even modern Christians associate their primary Biblical significance with their relationships to the more popular (male) actors. Consequently, as I reflect on the story of the prophet Anna, I'm caught off guard by her commitment, faithfulness and agency independent of any male player. Though Anna's contribution to the story of the birth of Christ seems meager, her role in the larger picture of Biblical women cannot be overstated. She demonstrates true dedication in her spiritual pursuits, maintains, through her status as a childless widow, an identity separate from any relational ties, and, upon meeting the baby Jesus, rejoices with the best and most righteous of them. Unlike Simeon, who considered his own story finished after meeting the baby Christ, Anna applied her unique sense of devotion to this new opportunity to celebrate the goodness of the Lord and proceeded to spread the good word far and wide.
Anna's short passage, inconsequential as it seems at the outset, challenges assumptions still prevalent in our own culture about "Biblical" women, regarding their societal status, participation in the spreading of the Gospel, and presence in the church. She represents action in a time of oppression, hope in the midst of uncertainty, and an overall disregard for the societal expectations for elderly widows within her culture. As a feminist, a Christian, and an historian, I find her story inspiring. Historically women have often been relegated to the background of major events and decisions, but here we have a woman in BIBLICAL TIMES, asserting her presence at likely the most significant occasion in all human history. She met the baby Jesus, and proceeded to profess the good news to ALL who awaited deliverance. Not to her husband or children, as she had none. Not solely to other women. To ALL.
Whether Anna knew it or not, she was paving the way for future Christian women, showing them the power of dedication, impassioned ministry and independence from patriarchal standards. I dare misogynistic “traditionalists” to look at Anna and paint her as a quiet, subservient elderly widow, for she did not act as Simeon and see Christ's birth as the signal for her swansong, but rather as the introduction to a new life season, one of honoring the Lord through her gifts of devotion and zeal. She was a woman of action, a woman of passion, and most importantly, a true woman of God.