Thursday, 30 December 2010


GospelLuke 2:36-40 

There was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
  When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.

In Advent we recognised John the Baptist, in all his wildness and righteousness,  as the last of the Old Testament prophets. As chosen and as driven as he is by the Holy Spirit, there is still something of that tradition that calls him to look for reassurance from this man who has not come armed with lightning in chariots of fire. 

Yet Anna, born nearly a hundred years before John, immediately recognises the Messiah, held in the arms of his young mother and guarded by his artisan father; a child overlooked by the Temple priests; whose mother and father would have had to pay hard earned money for Temple sacrifice; for the privilege of entering the Temple. 

How does she know?

Perhaps she has learnt the true meaning of prophecy? To see what is real; because she had become real. 

I thought of Anna when I read this passage from 'The Velveteen Rabbit' - if you can't read children's books at Christmas, when can you?

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it. 
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

Anna had not had the best of lives; a widow in her early twenties; presumable childless; one of the unwanted; the nonentities of the community.  Which is why she had had to turn to the Temple where she built a life. Maybe she had become a good listener; someone people would turn to for advice; someone people would ask to pray for them with an offering of a penny or two. Built a life that did not blame God for where she was but thanked him for it; who gave herself to him with all that she had. 
Which, to be honest, would have taken time. I would suggest that there was a lot of grief; regrets; resentment and ego that had passed through God's hands before she became Anna the prophetess. A lot of letting go and a great deal of letting God. To let go of demands that God make it right; that God change what has past; that God do something
Anna learns that it is up to her to allow God to do something.She has let God make her real; let God love her more and more as she becomes old and wrinkled and even, like the Skin Horse, loses her hair. To be loved as the world cannot love; for who she is; as she is.She becomes confident in that relationship of love; as a child is confident in love. She knows the strength of love. She has said 'yes' to that love.
When Anna sees Jesus, she recognises him; but she doesn't see a mighty God in a powerless child; she sees what is real - the God that belongs to her as she belongs to him; a powerless God in a mighty child; mighty because Jesus rests in the arms of two people who have also said 'yes'. 



Anonymous said...

I love the Velveteen Rabbit and your analogy with Anna is really great. There is such wisdom in some children's books. Yes, Anna had the blessing of really seeing who this child was. Life's bumps and bruises can soften, teach and give us wisdom if we choose to offer them to God. Great post.

Word in the Hand said...

Thank you Andie, strange where we can make connections - at least the connections I often make!
peace and blessing to you in the coming Year

Mari said...

I didn't see Anna like that before. Great connection. Have a blessed New Year :)

Margaret said...

I have never thought much about Anna, although I know this story. Thanks for giving me more to chew on. I think you are right that sometimes we change, we see more, we love more, when we are finally able to let go. But what a hard task that is.

Word in the Hand said...

Mari and Margaret - thanks for dropping by. I have developed a fascination in these one line characters. People you can build stories around.
mairie +