Our scriptures open today with an excerpt from the Fourth Oracle in the Book of Malachi. In the oracle, God will come suddenly, unannounced, to the Temple, as refining judge. The question is posed as to who will be able to endure this coming. The image conjured up in the oracle is of power and judgment.
We fast forward then in the Gospel to the Lukan account of the coming of Jesus to the Temple – an infant in the arms of his mother. There is no sense of power and he is not coming to judge. Rather, he has been brought there to be presented, by parents who desire to fulfill the law.
In the Temple they encounter two strangers. These are the ones who not only can endure his coming, but can recognize it. The first mentioned is a devout man named Simeon. This is a man of the Spirit of God. We are told the Spirit of God was upon him, had promised him that he would see the Christ of God before his death, and had led him to the Temple that very day. Simeon blesses God and in his prayer reveals a theme of Luke, that salvation is universal.
Then in the Temple there is also a woman, a very old woman. To many she is just another ‘little old lady’ who hangs around the Temple. To Luke she is a prophet. She too recognizes who has come to the Temple that day, because, as we learn, she is a woman of prayer.
It is common in Luke’s gospel to place women and men at the heart of a teaching. That is what we see in this story. The two elderly people recognize the coming of salvation into the Temple that day. In response, Simeon prays and prophesizes to Mary. Anna the prophet’s response is to give thanks and to preach. She spoke of the child ‘to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem’.
In the optional markings for the Gospel for this feast, the section that includes Anna, the prophet and preacher, is bracketed out, indicating her part in the proclamation can be left out. No doubt, she was bracketed out from the inner circle in her own time. In this she represents all women bracketed out by our church, and all people bracketed out by our social structures.
In the story of Luke, Anna has a clear place, not just as prophet but as preacher too. In the Gospel, a new day has dawned. God comes to the Temple without pomp or power or judgment. It is Anna, the one who may be overlooked, or bracketed out, the one who might be the least likely, who is God’s chosen messenger to preach the PRESENCE to all who looked for redemption.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP