They Rocked the Cradle that Rocked the World ~ chap. 6

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6—ANNA & SIMEON

Flaming Hope With A Flickering Candle

 

Who said God answers prayers? There are millions upon millions of people praying to him all the time. There is no way he could hear them all at once and keep them sorted out.

Besides, we’re not the only things God created. You think the earth is some big deal? Our planet is only one of many to belong to our sun-star. Our sun-star is only one of millions in our galaxy. Our galaxy is only one of millions of galaxies.

So who are we? We are punier than the smallest needle point compared to the rest of the universe. We are nothing. Each of us just a spec. A forgettable dot on the sea of the cosmos. A whisper in the realm of existence.

  • BC 90-80
  • Asher, Province of Galilee, Palestine

“Sir, you have a baby girl!”

Some people are stubborn though. They actually believe God notices them. Who do they think they are?

“We shall name her Anna.”

Anna has a strange life ahead of her. Her entire life she will wait and hope, wait and lose hope, wait and hope. Sometimes desperately.

Does God really answer prayer like they say? Anna will not find out until the very end—nearly a century from now.

Raising cattle is hard. Still, it is a contented way of life. But as little Anna grows, she becomes discontented. It had started when her father took her over to the Great Sea coast for the first time. There she saw all the excitement of big city life.

Back home, Anna embroiders a handkerchief with an image of the seacoast. She is good at embroidering. And as she does, she hums. She is both artistic and musical. Her family is proud of her.

Oh, dear Anna, if you only knew what lies ahead of you in the big city where you will move some day. Excitement, yes. But not the kind you have in mind. Riots, spies, invasions, massacres right in the temple. The sacred temple.

Perhaps you shouldn’t go, sweet Anna. You’re too pure and innocent. Are you sure that’s what you want? Can you handle it, little girl with the curls and big dove eyes and quick smile with a tooth missing?

Will you have the past-understanding stubbornness that will be required of you, little Anna with the new pink shawl and necklace made out of daisies? The peace and freedom your family takes for granted will end in a few years. Things will never be the same.

Can you keep the candle of your faith burning for so long?

  •  BC 74

 There is a wedding. Yes, it is Anna’s. She is all grown up.

She is a beautiful young woman with a round face, pointed chin and hazel eyes. When she works, she hums. When she walks, she is more likely to skip. When she gets worried, she twirls a strand of her brown hair around two fingers.

Anna has found the man of her dreams. He wants to whisk her off to the bright lights, sprawling synagogues and never-ending markets of the big city.

Candles. Flowers. Wedding veils.

“Here comes the bride… Here comes the groom…”

Parading through the streets back to the bride’s home.

Vows. Smiles. Kisses.

Wedding feast. Gifts.

“My little girl is grown up. That just can’t be.” Her father, Zedakiah, is tall with a receding hairline, and beard trimmed short and precise. He puts a small table and two chairs in the wagon that is being loaded up for the long trip ahead.

“Oh, Father,” Anna replies, her hands on her waist. “I’m not a little girl any longer. I’m sixteen. I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”

“I’ll take good care of her, sir,” Thomas assures.

Anna gazes at Thomas, tall and clean shaven with black eyes and neatly combed hair. He even has a cloth tucked in his belt that he uses to wipe his hands periodically.

Little by little, Anna’s mother sends things out to the wagon to add to the collection. Finally, the wagon is full with everything Anna’s mother thinks they’ll need to start housekeeping.

Anna’s mother hands her a tote full of wool yarns she has had dyed in different colors. “You’ll want this when you  are in one of your designing moods. You can use part of it to make a tapestry for your wall,” she explains with tears in her eyes.

Anna and Thomas climb into the wagon and Thomas clicks to signal the oxen to move out.

“Send word when you arrive there,” Zedekiah calls after them.

“And write often,” her mother adds. “Oh, Anna. We’ll miss you so.”

Anna is too far away to hear her mother’s whispered last words. Eyes straight ahead, sitting next to her Thomas, she does not see that her mother is now weeping freely in the arms of her father.

I’ll miss you too, Mother and Father. And I’ll wear the mail courier out delivering letters to you.

Anna tries to etch their likeness, their voice and their mannerisms in her memory. But now, just as her mother had done seventeen years earlier, it is Anna’s turn to go out into the exciting world and follow her new husband’s dream.

Hope is aflame in Anna’s heart.

  • Jerusalem, Province of Judea

Off the happy couple goes to Jerusalem. The hub of world activity. The spoke in the wheel of justice.

Thomas lands a fantastic job with an exporter. He even gets to travel sometimes.

“He’s getting to know a lot of important people,” Anna tells her new friend as they walk to the market together one morning. “He’s going to be important himself someday. I just know it.”

Anna gets a job too. She is a seamstress at the national temple. Part-time work to keep all the priests’ official garments mended. There’s a large staff. Everyone loves each other. It’s great to be part of the center of holy activity.

Thomas and Anna are so happy. Everything is perfect.

The flame in their hearts is like a torch.

  •  BC 67

Something is wrong. Anna’s tears fall like a torrent onto the miniature scroll and her pen.

Thomas was in a terrible accident. He was killed, she writes her parents.

Anna listlessly drops her pen. She cannot see now for the tears. She takes her handkerchief out of her sleeve and once more wipes away her tears, but it does nothing to wipe away the confusion.

She leans back on her stool now, arms hanging at her sides. She raises one hand to her forehead, leans back and groans aloud.

“Thomas,” she whispers. “My dear, dear Thomas.” Then the scream. “Why? Why God?” The groans from deep in her throat mingle with sobs.

After a few moments, she grows quiet. She wipes her face, pulls her hair away from her eyes, and picks up her pen again.

She resumes. He’s gone. He’s never coming back.

But the tears are always near, and once more she stops writing. Once more the pen drops, only this time on the parchment where it smudges her last word. She does not notice. Instead, she turns on her stool, hugs herself, and rocks back and forth, back and forth.

“Oh, my Thomas.” Her words come from deep in her throat and struggle to be released. “Oh, my God.” She puts her head down in her lap. “I can’t stand this.”

Anna rises, looks around her room and notices his robe still on a hook. She picks it up, buries her face in it, absorbs the smells that are her Thomas—were her Thomas—and leans one shoulder on the wall. She sinks to the floor, holding on to Thomas’ robe, and sobs.

With a start, she realizes she has drifted off and awakens to a room with deepened shadows in it. She turns onto her knees, pulls herself up and walks back over to the table with her letter to be sent home. She lays Thomas’ robe across her lap, smooths it gently, and picks up her pen.

Thomas is gone. What am I going to do? I loved him more than life itself. I cannot live without him.

The funeral had been yesterday, the same day as the accident. She had been in such a daze, she’d hardly known it was happening. Her friends at the temple and their husbands had sat with her. She couldn’t remember who handled the expenses. Oh, yes, his employer did.

She imagines her parents worrying over her facing all this alone.

Thomas’s sister lives here, she scribbles quickly while she has some control. And I have a good friend who works at the temple with me. They’ve both said they will stay with me awhile.

Why them? Why can’t it be Thomas staying with me?

She gently puts the pen down, pushes the parchment out of the way and lays her head on the table cradled in her arms.

“Oh, Mamma. Oh, Father,” she whispers. “I can hardly stand it.”

Friends come and go as young Anna, only 23 years old, tries to absorb her grief.

Sometimes she looks at the things Thomas brought for her during his travels and washes them with her tears. Sometimes she re-reads the little tablets of clay where he had scratched notes for her to find whenever he was gone—tablets that she is now so grateful she did not throw away. Sometimes she paces. Or sits with her eyes closed and dreams of happier days. Or just cries into the silence.

_____

“Now that the funeral is over, we’ve got to decide what to do with your house.” Her father tells her.

“Father, I know what you’re thinking. But I can’t leave here.”

Anna’s parents have arrived.

“Thomas is here. Everywhere. I need that. And my work. I need to keep my job. I don’t need any more changes right now.”

They are eating. Her parents had brought cheese, raisin cakes and dates with them. They had bought bread at the market on their way to Anna’s house.

“But, Anna…”

Her eyes aren’t as swollen from the tears as they had been, but there are still tell-tale signs from when she cries in the night. She has learned to control them better during the day.

“Please, Father. Please be patient with me.”

She stands and takes the dirtied bowls and platters out to the well in her yard. She has hardly eaten at all. She is growing alarmingly thin.

“Look at you, Anna,” her mother interjects, almost in tears herself. “Your cheeks are sunken in, you have dark circles under your eyes, and you walk around like you’re half dead yourself.”

“This is what I need to do. Gradually I’ll heal. Somehow.”

“Yes, it takes time to heal,” Zedekiah interjects. “But are you sure you can do it away from your family?”

“This is the family of God, Father. I’ll be fine.”

Has God forsaken Anna? Does she not understand what is going on? Does she actually believe it will all work together like a mosaic? How gullible.

The flame in Anna’s heart is still strong. It will survive.

  •  BC 63

 The trumpets blare from atop the watchtowers. The sound they had all dreaded. “He’s just outside our wall. Defend your city!”

Anna knows who is there, just as everyone else does, and her mind gropes and fights, not wanting to admit the inevitable. Roman Commander Pompeii and his army have arrived.

It is the Sabbath and the temple is busy. Undaunted, despite the threat, the priests continue to offer their sacrifices. Pompeii had known they would.

“Look out!”

With a bang that invades Anna’s ears and devastates her soul, mortar from the great stones of the eternal temple break loose and fly across the courtyard.

It has begun.

Again the colliding and banging and crashing of war machines and their targets. Again. Again. And again. The forces of war running wild perpetually.

Anna rushes out of her work room and into the grand courtyard of the temple. Worshippers run in every direction. Most out the front gate and hopefully away from the danger.

Now fragments off the great stone wall. Flying everywhere. Now chunks. Larger and larger.

What to do? Where should she run? Where can she hide? How will she escape?

The priests do not run, as though in oblivion. Their sacrifices continue as though nothing were happening.

Anna remembers that she has a friend who lives near the temple. Can she make it that far before the dreaded Roman legionnaires charge into the city?

Out the gate. Running. Bumping into other people running. All, like Anna, fleeing for their lives.

She arrives at Judith’s street near the temple, and turns, rushing toward hoped-for protection. The enemy legionnaires have not yet broken down the gates of Jerusalem, but it is only a matter of time. Then the invasion. Anna must find an escape.

As soon as she recognizes Judith’s gate, she pounds on it.

“Judith. It’s me. Anna. Are you in there? Judith?”

She hears scraping of wood against wood on the other side of the gate, and it opens.

“Oh, Judith. You’re home,” she says to her friend who is hiding most of her body behind the half-opened gate.

“Come in quickly so I can shut the gate” Judith replies, her eyes flashing.

Anna hurries in and helps her friend bolt it back.

Judith’s hair is in braids and she has flour on her hands and the tip of her broad nose. Anna sees a bowl full of bread dough on a nearby table.

“What’s going on out there?” Judith asks, fear in her eyes. “It’s Pompeii, isn’t it?

From inside her friend’s house, they can hear the noise. The great noise of the indestructible temple. The insufferable noise of what cannot be happening.

Then silence. The rest of the day. The rest of the night.

It is morning. Still the silence. Is it over? Really over? Judith stands on a bench and looks out in the street through the only window facing it.

Roman legionnaires everywhere. A few brave citizens make their way outside their homes as quickly as possible to what they believe is safer quarters. Heads are covered to protect their identity.

Judith steps down off the bench to give Anna a chance to see what is going on during their nightmare.

“They need me. I must return to the temple,” Anna announces stepping down off the bench.

“No, Anna. It’s too dangerous.”

“There will be wounded. They need me.”

“But.”

Stubborn Anna covers her head with her shawl, waits a moment while Judith unbolts the door. She joins the other brave ones in the narrow streets, staying close to the shadows and scurrying like insects, afraid of being discovered.

She stops in front of the grand entrance to the temple grounds. What will she find? Legionnaires there too. But only as guards. She sees a small woman and hurries over to her.

“What’s going on inside?” she inquiries from under her shawl.

“Horrible!” the woman chokes out. “They’re dead. All dead.”

Realizing the woman has already been inside the compound and been able to come back out safely, Anna decides to try. Slowly she walks closer to the entrance. She hesitates and looks at the Roman legionnaires. They are not stopping her, or anyone else.

Then, even more slowly, she creeps in and takes her shawl off her head. She stops and gasps. It is not as horrible as she had envisioned, for it’s far worse. Laying out across the outer courtyard, waiting to be identified, are the priests. Blood saturates their clothing and runs along the cobblestones around them. Their throats have all been cut.

Anna walks among them looking, although she does not want to. Looking into the faces of the forever gone. Her tears protectively fall to obscure the faces of those she has known so long, now distorted with death.

Oh, God. If you are so good, how could you allow this to happen?

Satan is laughing. He has convinced everyone Satan is a figment. So God is all that is left to blame. That is good.

Anna stays at the temple all day. Thoughts of Thomas mingle with the present hideous reality. Her tears come again. She tries to control them. She is needed.

Continually she searches through the bodies, trying to find someone who might have survived the slaughter. Sometimes she does.

As relatives come in, Anna goes over to them, comforting them and walking with them as they search for what remains of their husbands, their fathers, their sons, their brothers.

Whenever the relative finds a loved one, Anna says, “I’m so sorry. I lost my husband in a terrible accident. It is devastating. I’m so sorry.” She says the same thing to them all.

Eventually, Anna must go home. She must face her own reality. Again the shawl over her head to protect her identity.

Alone she walks among the rubble and foreign legionnaires. Alone with Thomas in her heart giving her courage. Alone with God in her soul, giving her hope.

When she arrives at her street, she screams. She doesn’t mean to. It is so unlike her. But she screams. Before her are the hollow remains of what is left of her neighborhood. And her home. Her and Thomas’ home.

It has been burned. All her mementoes. All his clothing that she had saved. All that used to be Thomas. Gone. Forever gone.

Stubborn Anna, 27 years old, and more alone than ever, turns back. She must return to the temple. There are apartments there. Perhaps she can rent one. After it is repaired. After the wounded are cleared out. And the dead.

Now, more than ever, she and the others pray. “Please, God. Send us our Deliverer, our Savior, our Messiah.”

God, is this what you have had in mind for your followers? Are you sure? Her hope continues as a flame. But it is flickering. It flickers a lot these days.

  • BC 48

 Roman Caesar and Idumean Prefect Antipater have allowed people to go back to some semblance of normalcy.

Anna, now 42, has gotten to know the latest new high priest fairly well, as well as seamstresses are allowed to get to know important people.

Up the stairs and down the hall, the High Council of Seventy—the Sanhedrin—meets in its chambers. “Gentlemen, it has come to our attention that young Herod, the new lieutenant prefect of the province of Galilee up north, has defied us.”

Holy shock.

“No one is allowed to execute anyone without both the agreement of the civil government and religious government. He knows that.”

Righteous wrath.

“He has defied us. Young Herod has executed several gangs of robbers up in his province. We have ordered him to appear before us in three weeks.”

Lieutenant Prefect Herod actually shows up for the hearing. In his haughty way, he pretends he is sorry. He is not. They will hear from him again later. They will be sorry. He keeps his promises.

God, we’re still looking for your Deliverer. He’s the one we really want to rule over us. God, do you hear us? God, are you there? Anna, where’s your candle?

 BC 40

 Anna is now 50 years old. Caesar has died suddenly. Jerusalem’s Prefect Antipater has died suspiciously. One of his sons, lieutenant prefect of Jerusalem and Perea, has committed suicide.

Chaos. Political chaos.

The high priest is taken out of power. He had been a political appointee, as usual. The appointment is no longer valid. The former high priest-king is brought back to power.

All of Palestine is elated. Praise God!

Anna is delighted. She had liked this man. Everyone had. He made a better leader of religious and state affairs. Now things will really go back to normal.

Daily, as always, she sits in her little room mending or making priestly garments. As she does, she hums. Sometimes she bursts out into song. But mostly she hums.

Normal does not last long. Rome strips the priest-king of his crown. All he has left is his priestly turban. But people are grateful he is at least still their high priest.

Anna creates a new normal. Ruling bodies come and go, priests and Levites come and go. But Anna continues to work on the priestly garments. As she does, she hums.

In her daily prayers, she thanks and praises God. Everyone does. Anna’s candle burns brighter. The flame of hope is stronger now.

It lasts only three years.

Anna prays. “Oh, God. Where is your Deliverer?”

So does a man she will meet soon. His name is Simeon.

 BC 37

 “No! It can’t be. Not again!” Anna cries out, rushing to the courtyard from her work room and apartment. The awful, crashing sound that cannot be mistaken for anything else. The same sound that had whisked away half the city long ago.

Once more the battering rams. Once more the shaking and rocking of the walls of the eternal city. And of the holy temple. And of hope.

This time, it is Herod, son of Antipater. He has been made king of all Palestine by Caesar. Jerusalem has blocked the highways and closed all its gates. Herod is a half breed. Half Jew and half Arab. He cannot be allowed to be their king. Their high priest is supposed to be their king. This cannot be.

Having nowhere else to go, Anna stays at the temple compound. People run in off the street seeking shelter in the holy place. She stands by the front and directs people where to go for greatest safety.

A woman and four children, one in her arms, rushes in. An old couple, both walking with canes. A nearby merchant with a cart of his basket wares, pulling it by hand. Two more with pottery thrown in their cart, pulling it themselves like a team of mules. Three crying children huddled together. A blind beggar being led by a friend, or perhaps a relative. A merchant laded with silk fabric on his back. A woman full of jewelry and make up and her hair partially braided and partially hanging loose. A man carrying a bundle of parchment scrolls. A toddler wandering alone and crying. Two women huddled together.

Once the traffic from outside reduces to a trickle, the gates are closed and Anna joins the crowds huddled together in hope of living through what most do not.

They hear shouting of Herod’s soldiers outside the walls. The defiance of outnumbered Jewish zealots. And the screams.

Clanging of steel against steel. Crashing of rock against rock. And the silent, ravaging fires.

“I’ve been through this before, you know,” She whispers to the three children and toddler she had personally taken to herself at the gate. I was only 27 at the time. I lived through it. God will help us.”

Anna begins to hum. The faster the catapult throws rocks on the compound, the faster she hums. The louder the clash of nearby swords, the louder she hums.

Then the front gates to the temple compound shudder and thunder. A stampede. Soldiers breaking through.

“Quickly! Back here!” she hears a priest shout to the others in the outer women’s courtyard. “This way, everyone!”

And the others in the terrified throng follow him into the elevated courtyard designated only for men. Escape the invading soldiers. Escape the defiance and death. Just like before.

Finally, but gradually, the chaos of death moves away. And it too dies.

Hours later, though perhaps it has only been moments, Anna and some of the other adults gain the courage to walk out to where the fighting had occurred. Again the screams of disbelief. Again the remains of butchery. This time, Anna does not throw up.

The wounded. The dying. The dead. The temple on fire.

Not again. Not here. Not in the temple.

“Come on, men! Let’s put this fire out!”

Simeon, tall with a black beard and large hands, grabs a tapestry and beats the flames with it. Others follow his example.

“Move that furniture out of the way! It’s just fueling the flame!” Simeon barks.

“Wait a moment! Is that someone trapped under there?” He rushes over to the piled stones and quickly moves them out of the way. He sees a hand. Then an arm. Now the face. It is the face of death. If his hands had been more calloused, perhaps he could have gotten to the poor man in time.

He rushes over to the next suspicious pile of rubble, hoping this time he can save a life. His hands are bleeding. They are the hands of a scholar, not a fighter.

After this, Simeon spends more time at the temple with the other volunteers. Doing what he can to help repair it. Through the months that follow, his hands callous and he becomes a more productive worker.

Anna and the other women prepare meals for the men, and make sure drinking water is always nearby.

Anna tells Simeon he reminds her of her little brother. They talk sometimes. Mostly about the Deliverer.

Sometimes Simeon shows his anger. He sets his jaw, purses angry lips, and slams his fist down on whatever is nearby during their talks. Silence. Then a deep breath. Once more he gets control of himself.

“Why?” he so often asks. “Why does God wait so long to keep his promise?”

There never is an answer.

Have they all misunderstood God? Is God what and who they had thought all these years? Anna needs fuel for her flickering candle of hope. Simeon too.

  •  BC 36

 “Where are they?” demands the centurion.

“Sir, you need to keep your voice down,” Anna boldly admonishes, her eyebrows lowering and coming together in disapproval. “This is a house of worship,” she adds with a whisper, holding a finger up to her lips.

He draws his sword and points it at her. “The Sanhedrin! The Council of Seventy. Where is their assembly room?”

Startled, Anna does not know what to do. She reaches back and begins to twirl a few strands of her hair around her fingers. Other than that, she does nothing.

Scowling, the centurion marches to the other end of the magnificent courtyard and off to the side where the officiums and apartments are. One by one his men break down the doors along the corridor. Searching. Now up the stairs and those rooms.

The doors to the council chambers are flung open. Swords flash. Without warning blood spills without mercy. In only moments the mission is completed. The entire Council is wiped out. The soldiers retreat in triumph. King Herod has been avenged of the men who had condemned him for killing the robber gangs up in Galilee years before. When will people learn?

The soldiers march back through the courtyards and corridors of the temple. Past the priests, the worshippers, and Anna. Their bloody swords still drawn. A trail of blood mocks the hallowed domain.

Priests run toward the council chambers. Levites run there too. Anna follows. Rome has killed again. But who? In a few moments the word is passed along the crowd and to Anna.

God, surely it is not your will to kill religious leaders. What’s going on, God?

Slaughter once more. The tears of Anna once more. Once more the prayer. “Oh God, send us your Deliverer, our Savior. Please, God.”

Anna is not as young as she used to be. Neither is Simeon.

He has gone back to being his old self. Simeon the book worm. His clothes look like his little house—messy. His hair looks like the scrolls scattered around his study —out of place. But his mind is clear and organized. His goal, like many other pious worshipers, is to memorize the entire Law of Moses and the prophets. He prefers the prophets and currently has memorized most of Isaiah.

Whenever he comes to the temple, he usually has one or two, and sometimes three scripture scroll under his arm. Always looking for someone to have a discussion with about the scriptures. Especially about the prophets. When he cannot find anyone available to have discussions with, he sends word to Anna. She is always willing to discuss the scripture scrolls, and often agrees with his conclusions. That is satisfying.

 BC 35

 New men must be found to head the national religion. Nominations. Hearings. Confusion.

Over in the palace, King Herod is deciding who to appoint as the new high priest. King Herod’s new wife has a favor to ask.

“Sweetheart, my little brother wants to be the high priest.”

Herod does not even look up from the scroll he is reading. “Nonsense. He’s only 17 years old.”

“But darling, sweetie. He looks older. He’d make a good one.”

“Oh, well. What difference does it make? The high priest has to do what I tell him anyway.”

“I knew you’d agree. It will make the people happy.”

The news rushes around the national temple and reaches Anna. She is startled.

“A teenage high priest? The temple will be a laughing stock.”

“Maybe not,” someone replies thoughtfully. “Remember, he’s the grandson of our last high priest-king. He could be good for the country.”

God, things are in a mess. We’re ready for your Deliverer. Could you possibly send him now? God? God?

Aging Anna hopes so. Simeon too. Just keep your candle lit, Anna.

  • BC 34

 King Herod always makes it a point to attend annual national services at the temple. This year will be quite interesting, with that kid acting as high priest.

“Wasn’t it just wonderful, the service and all?” he hears someone say.

“Oh yes. And our new high priest was born for this job. It’s in his blood.”

Herod does not like what he hears. That young man has gotten just a little too popular.

There is a swimming accident. There is a grand funeral in the national temple. It had to be.

Anna cries. Simeon cries. The nation cries.

Someone gives King Herod an idea. “Sir, there is a man who seems to be liked, but not too liked. Respected, but not too respected. Understands the letter of the law, but seems to prefer following what he calls the spirit of the law.”

“Sounds good to me. What is his name?”

“Jesus.”

“Excellent. We’ll appoint this Jesus as the next high priest.”

“Fine. Prepare a public declaration.”

“Oh God, this isn’t the Jesus we had in mind. Jesus means deliverer, but he’s the wrong one. God, send your Deliverer.”

Anna and Simeon pray every day. Without fail. Sometimes they talk of it privately. No one else seems to understand the way they do.

  • BC 27

 It has been ten years since Anna and Simeon first met. It is barely dawn. Someone knocking on Anna’s apartment door.

“There is a gentleman here to see you. His name is Simeon.”

Anna dresses, throws water on her face, runs a comb through her hair, and hurries to the front of the temple compound. She sees him.

“Anna, it’s about to happen!” Simeon announces, not waiting for her to be close enough for a private conversation.

His hair does not look like it has seen a comb in a week. His clothes look like he has slept in them, which he probably has. His beard has crumbs from no telling how many meals the past few days.

They walk over to a corner of the portico for some privacy.

“Soon, Anna!” Simeon continues. “He’s coming soon.”

“The Deliverer, Simeon? How do you know?”

“God spoke to me last night. The—”

“God did what?” Anna questions, her eyes wide, her mind suspicious.

“God spoke to me last night, Anna. The Deliverer is coming soon.” Simeon is smiling and waving his hands.

Anna tries to share his excitement. She wants to. “When?”

“I don’t know for sure. Some time in my lifetime. God promised I would not die until I saw him with my own eyes.”

Simeon has never exaggerated before. He has always stated the facts as they were, without distortion or embellishment. Anna thinks about what Simeon has just said, eying him and curling a strand of hair around her fingers.

“Simeon,” she finally says with a twinkle in her eyes and a new smile, “I believe you. I hope in my lifetime too.” Anna’s now 63. “God does answer prayer, doesn’t he, Simeon?” It is not really a question.

Come, Deliverer. Come and save us. We’re ready for you. God, you do hear us, don’t you?

The flame of Anna’s hope glows a little brighter.

  •  BC 23

 The life-time position of high priest is interrupted again. Herod has his eyes on a beautiful young lady. But she does not come from a family of consequence. No one ever heard of her family, at least no one of any political importance.

That Jesus is ousted as high priest. He’s done a pretty good job and kept out of trouble. Anna likes him. Simeon likes him. Zechariah and the other priests have grown to admire him.

Nevertheless, Jesus is ousted. He is in the way. In the way of progress. Of love. Of King Herod. So Simon is made the new high priest in grand ceremony. Now that Simon is important, the king can marry Simon’s daughter.

“Who is this Simon?” people ask. Some have seen him at services sometimes. Especially the important ones. But he never participated in any temple activities that anyone remembers.

God. It’s been so long. We believed in you. Do you believe in us? We need your Deliverer. Please send him, God. We really need him.

  • BC 22
  • Nazareth, Province of Galilee

 In the little town of Nazareth, up in the province of Galilee, there is born a little baby girl. Her name is Mary.

Anna has just retired. The temple allows her to continue living in her apartment. She has been there nearly all her life. It’s all she knows any more.

“Will you pray for me, Anna? My child is sick,” someone asks her.

“Anna, remember me in prayer. I need to find a job,” another requests.

Anna prays for the Deliverer to come too. She has waited this long. What’s another ten years or so? Whatever it takes. Anna is learning. In her heart of hearts she knows God will answer her prayer. And his promise to Simeon.

The flame of hope continues to burn. It never goes out.

  •  BC 18
  • Jerusalem, Province of Judea

 Anna is now 72 years old. Simeon is 62. It has been nearly twenty years since King Herod did so much damage to the national temple. It has since been repaired. The roof put back on and the walls restored. But it is not grand enough for Herod.

“I cannot tolerate having a temple in my city that is so puny. It does not become my greatness,” King Herod declares. So the work is begun. Bit by bit.

“Sorry, Anna. But you’ll have to take everything out of your apartment and move to the other side of the building until they tear down and rebuild this section. You should be able to move back in about three months.”

“Sorry, Anna. But you’ll have to vacate your benevolence room. You will be in one of the store rooms until they can tear down and rebuild this section. You should be able to move back in about ten weeks.” Another move.

King Herod is paying for the whole thing. This should make him very popular with the Jews. It doesn’t.

Oh God, send us your Deliverer. Herod has no right pretending he is so good when he is so bad. They say it’s darkest just before light. Send us some light God. Just so we can know you are out there. Out there somewhere.

Simeon continues to talk with Anna sometimes. About the coming Deliverer. She must keep her flame alive. It flickers sometimes. Anna is growing old.

  •  BC 7

 “It’s Zechariah!” Anna explains to Simeon one day. “An angel has appeared to him. Right here in the temple. He told him his wife would have a son by the end of the year, and the son would announce the coming of the Deliverer. Do you think he really did see an angel?”

Simeon believes all right. It confirms what God had told him several years before. Simeon is growing quite old and stooped. It will have to be soon. He is confident it will be soon.

“Yes, Anna. I believe it.”

Oh yes, God! You haven’t forgotten us. You’re still there.

Come, Deliverer. Come! Anna, hang on to your candle.

  •  BC 6

 Anna looks at the small clay tablet delivered to her by one of the Levites. It contains only four words.

Today is the day!“Today’s what day?” she asks herself. Anna is now 84 years old.

Her eyes aren’t as bright as they used to be, and she can no longer sew, partly due to her failing eye sight and partly due to the arthritis in her fingers. Her lustrous brown hair is now gray. She has wrinkles on her face and brown spots on her hands. But she still has her pointed chin. The pointed chin her Thomas used to love to kiss.

Anna decides to have breakfast and wait for Simeon. He will arrive soon. Of this she is confident. They have been friends a very long time.

As she waits, she dares to hope. Hope beyond seemingly all hope. Could it be? Could it, God? Her hands quiver and she is unable to hold the spoon.

“He is on his way. The Deliverer!”

She recognizes Simeon’s voice and turns toward him where she has been waiting for him out on Solomon’s portico.

“It’s now?” Anna asks, the flame of her hope about to leap out of her aging heart. Anna has always believed.

A seemingly insignificant threesome is in Jerusalem. They are headed for the temple. They must go through the purification ceremony. Being a first-born, baby Jesus must be presented to the Lord.

Inside the temple grounds, Mary and Joseph stand in awe of its greatness. They walk across the courtyard and toward the grand stairway leading to the altar courtyard. Though they try to be quiet, the click of their heels echoes slightly off the walls.

Someone else hears it too. He is sitting on a bench near the steps. He watches as the young couple goes through their ceremonies. They aren’t particularly noticed by anyone else. They are just an ordinary couple going through a routine ceremony. Lots of parents and babies go through this every year.

The ceremonies over, Mary and Joseph turn to leave. Mary is holding their baby.

Simeon stands just as they turn. He walks toward them. He is insignificant too.

“Please, may I hold him? He’s our Deliverer, our Savior. He is, isn’t he?”

Amazed that the old man understands this, Mary gently hands her precious baby over to him. Old Simeon carefully cradles Jesus. He sings to the Deliverer, softly with a crackly voice. The Deliverer wakens and blinks.

As the reality of the moment sinks in, Simeon’s aged heart bursts with excitement. He sings louder and louder until he is bellowing ecstatically. Baby Jesus once more opens his eyes, wiggles playfully, and smiles.

But what about the others? They’ll want to know about it. He mustn’t keep it to himself, Simeon turns and faces the nearly empty temple courtyard. His eyes glisten and open wide as he makes the glad announcement.

“Everyone!” he shouts. “He’s here at last. Our Deliverer! Here he is. Praise God. He’s here!”

No one much pays attention to the old man. No one except the old lady.

It is Anna. She has been praying in the back. No duties are required of her any more. So she prays for her people. And the Deliverer.

Anna, though a little hard of hearing by now, looks up when she hears Simeon’s familiar voice and sees him up front with a young couple and baby.

This is it, Anna! The moment you’ve been praying for all your life. Yes, Anna, God does answer prayer. Do you want to see for yourself, Anna? Go up there. You can, you know. Go up there and meet him for yourself.

The flame in her heart leaps up nearly out of control.

She makes her way toward them. It is a long way. She progresses as rapidly as she physically can. Her feet scoot and shuffle, but her heart races.

While they wait, Simeon turns to the young couple. “Could I pray for you?”

Mary and Joseph smile in assent.

“At last, God, I can die in peace.” The old man fights to keep back his tears. “You have kept your promise.” Tears of relief. “I’ve seen with my own eyes your Deliverer whom you have sent to rescue all the nations of the world.” Tears of joy.

The prayer over, Simeon hands baby Jesus back to Mary. Anna is moving a little closer. They wait for Anna. Just like Anna has waited for the couple and their baby. Day after day. Year after year. Decade after decade.

Slowly she makes her way toward them.

Your prayers, Anna. God came through. He didn’t let you down after all. God heard you all along. How could you have ever questioned God?

She looks ahead of her. Closer and closer she proceeds to her answer.

Simeon puts his arms around Mary and Joseph and blesses them. “This baby will someday cause many people to rise or to fall throughout the nation. You will know it when people take sides, deciding whether to join him.”

He looks deeply into Mary’s eyes. His own eyes shimmer with sympathy. Should he tell her? He must.

“A sword shall be thrust through your own soul. But, as a result, the true thoughts and motives of those people will be revealed.”

Anna is now a short distance from them. Simeon looks over at her and she smiles back at him knowingly.

No longer able to wait for her, he walks to where she is, takes her arm and escorts her the rest of the way to her Deliverer.

“Yes, Anna. At last it is him,” he whispers. “Our Deliverer. Our Savior. Our prayers all these long years, Anna, have been answered. He is here. At last he is here.”

“We knew all along he’d come, didn’t we, Simeon?” she responds. The last few short steps are made in holy silence. Mary and Joseph smile at Anna.

Her aged eyes glisten. The eyes so wide and bright those many, many years ago. Not so wide and bright any more. But still full of hope. A hope that she now sees for herself.

Anna stops, stands next to Mary and Joseph, and looks into the eyes of God.

“I knew!”

Her voice is halting and squeaky. No matter. It speaks what she must speak. “I knew all along,” she tells the young couple. Mary holds baby Jesus so Anna can see him better. “I knew God answers prayer. I just didn’t know when. But I knew,” she says, stroking the flawless soft cheek of her Deliverer.

Old Anna has actually touched him. He has come into her world so she could.

_____

Finally, everyone leaves. Mary. Joseph. Jesus. Simeon. All but Anna, of course. She will continue to live at the temple. And die soon.

In the months that follow, she tells everyone the story. The priests, their assistants, the Levites, the worshipers, anyone and everyone she can convince to listen.

“The Deliverer has been born!” she tells everyone. They acknowledge her words condescendingly.

Some are more polite. “Where is he?”

“He was here not long ago. I saw him with my own eyes. We are going to be delivered from our enemies at last. God has heard our prayers.”

Some believe her, but do not become very excited. Others do not believe her at all.

He apparently was not born here in Jerusalem the holy. There were no declarations, no ceremonies and no processions. No. Surely Anna is mistaken. Surely God does not answer prayers. At least, not that way

 

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