Read Luke 2:22-40.
When reading scripture, the words of one of my mentors echoes through my brain: “Stay curious.” She would ask, “Why did the writer include this?” Or, “Why did the writer leave out that?” In our text from Luke, I’ve always wondered why Luke includes five sentences about the Prophet Anna.
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Sure, there are some theological theories about why she’s included and what her dad’s name and their tribe have to do with everything, but regardless of the theories, I think it’s interesting and totally awesome that this 84-year-old widow is a part of this moment. In fact, when we read the Bible closely, we see lots of women who were doing amazing things. And whether it’s Anna or Mary or Mary Magdalene or Joanna or Phoebe or the woman who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, women were at the backbone of the Jesus movement from Day 1 (but, given the existence and blindspots of #thepatriarchy these prophets and disciples don’t get the recognition they deserve). Okay, before I get all worked up, back to elderly Anna.
In just those few sentences, Luke illustrates the faithfulness and commitment of this prophet, and it reminds me of all of the older women who have been leaders in the church. Often (yes, largely due to gender-norms and sexism in congregational life) these older women are making the machine of the church move in the background, by writing cards and cooking meals and teaching classes and visiting hospitals and chairing committees and balancing budgets and praying for sick babies and…and…and…being the backbone of the Jesus movement. So take a moment in light of the Christmas season and Epiphany to tell those older women in your life thank you. And then honor them and all of the other prophetesses by working for equality…because in God’s dream, gender norms (especially in church!) need to take a vacation. And not come back.
Pray: Holy God, thank you for the many people who have worked for your glory often in the background, going unnoticed. May we offer our gratitude to them, turn the tables, and by your guidance cultivate your dream of equality. Amen.
Patrick Harley, UKirk Birmingham