This story was inspired by the devotional reading from Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest, for January 6th (Epiphany). The idea that one’s worship, waiting, and work are to be so intertwined that they are one gift to Jesus–and, thus, a gift to you and me even more–moved me so.
And Anna’s simple story from Luke’s gospel always touches me. Sometimes I wonder about that day–the day she’d waited for most of her life…
And there was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38–NIV).
I’d been waiting–and over the course of these many years, I’ve worshipped and worked. These three disciplines have become like a strand of three chords–intertwined so tightly that I can no longer see their separation. My worship is in my work. My work is itself a sort of worship. And my waiting? Well, I’ve been waiting so long, the temple’s become a sort of Waiting Room–where I’ve worshipped and worked from one day to another over the span of sixty-some odd years.
From the time I was widowed at a very early age, I’ve looked to the Lord alone as my protector. After all, what choice have I had? No children and, after the death of my husband, no man to care for me. Being physically alone wasn’t the fate I’d have chosen, certainly not. But I wasn’t asked, and it doesn’t take much wisdom to know what would happen to a young widowed, childless woman. Had I lingered too long in my circumstances, I’d have likely been taken by someone–forced to become a servant or, worse, a sex slave. Prostitution in those days meant I’d sell myself but would likely never see any profit–only a growing deficit that would undoubtedly lead to death. Some slave holder would certainly steal from me–not only my money but my body, too, not to mention my dignity, with rarely a coin tossed in my direction.
Yes, as a childless widow without God’s house, I’d have likely been sold to another kind of temple where I’d have worked and waited and worshipped in other sorts of ways–though, again, it would have been the death of me.
But by God’s mercy and grace, I came instead to rest under the shelter of the Most High. My song is one straight from the ancient scriptures–from the prophet Isaiah.
Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child;
Burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor;
Because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.
Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtain wide,
Do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
Your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.
Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband–the LORD Almighty is his name–the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer…
It was as if those words were written just for me, and I committed them to memory long ago–singing them often as I work and worship.
Yes, as I wait.
Like Isaiah, I didn’t choose my vocation–this worship-work which, for many, might feel more like a curse. After all, to possess the gift of prophesy–well, it’s no minor matter. Frankly, you’re often hated for it–though it’s certainly been easier for me here than for those who live outside the safety of these sheltered walls. Many prophets have suffered greatly for sharing the messages that are impressed upon their hearts–messages that foretell things to come. The purpose has always been to convict, to lead to repentance–which, in turn, will lead to hope. Frequently, however, the messages stir defiance and lead, instead, to anger. Sometimes even death.
So it was a miracle that God’s grace and mercy brought me–a prophetess–to His house. Within the walls of Jerusalem’s temple, I can prophesy more safely–sharing the message of a coming Messiah with all those who’ll listen, with the spoken word–Yes!–but many times, with song.
Oh, how I love to sing–and dance, too, sometimes–but at eighty-four, I know my limits. This aged body of mine–well, it suffers when I take things too far, not to mention my routine fasting. There’s joy in that too, no doubt, but the lack of food can lead to lessened energy, and sometimes a simple toe-tap sucks the life right from my legs. Thus, I’ve learned to be careful. It doesn’t take a prophetess to see the future for an old woman like me who gets carried away, and God–well, I’m not sure He honors stupidity.
Just this morning, after my daily prayers, I broke my fast by eating a meager meal of flatbread and water, as well as a small portion of fruit. After, I’d walked through the halls of the temple–praying and singing praise. My heart was light, and I felt especially grateful for my worship-work in God’s House–so much so, tears began to run little rivers on my cheeks. Even the waiting–expectant to one day see the fulfillment of all I’ve ever prophesied–seemed sweeter somehow, and a song from our forefather David streamed in with the early morning sunshine.
A ray pierced through an upper window, and dust particles danced like shimmering diamonds. I held out my hands to capture the falling gems as my lips proclaimed–
In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice;
In the morning I lay my requests before you
And wait expectantly.
Right then and there, joy bubbled over as I expressed my expectancy–words I’d hidden in my heart long ago, when dreams felt dashed but I’d chosen to prop myself up on God’s promises. It was another one of David’s ancient songs–
Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
My hope comes from him.
Not typically a cryer, I continued to cry, and I was most certain–had anyone seen–there were little rainbows all around, my tears mixed with sunshine, dust-diamonds in my hands. I stood there in that hallway–my worship, work, and waiting woven to create a golden ladder to heaven. And I almost felt that, had I wanted to, I could have climbed it right then and there–entered my Eternal rest and snuggled up, enveloped in the loving bosom of Abraham.
And though I’ll admit I’m tired–weary at times from the worship-work in waiting–I felt in that moment a surging desire to stay, as though my time’s not yet up. There’s more, and I knew it–my heart feeling a peace I cannot explain.
Just then, another voice broke the silence of this melodic moment, and though I didn’t recognize it, I followed the sound of his song as it resonated through the halls. His words–I knew them, as though I’d always known them, like they’d been sung over me before. Oh, one of the beautiful realities of the prophetic gift!
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
You may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
Which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
A light for revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of your people Israel.
And I knew. The One for whom I’ve waited, for whom I’ve worked–the One I’ve worshipped all these years–has come. He’s the Light that pierces the darkness, making diamonds from dust–the fulfillment of the promise dancing rainbows in sun’s rays.
Well, right then–this feeble lady fled from that corridor into the open air of the temple courtyard, and my eyes finally beheld for the very first time the Lamb of God. Wrapped in white, held up by hands even older than my own, the Messiah–the One of whom I’ve prophesied my whole life-long–stretched his little arms toward the heavens as a man sang–his song filling up that time, that space.
And, for me–at this moment–all time stands still, as though I’m perched on a vertex from where I’ll forever move in yet another direction, throughout the duration of the days that remain. What was to come has come. What is to be is yet to be seen, though I know God will show me that too–has already begun, in fact. Something about which I will soon prophesy–a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to my God as I continue to work and worship, though the waiting as I’ve known it has now ceased, or at least changed, and with just one glance.
At this moment, on this day, I don’t want to be a prophetess. I don’t care that I was never a mother, hardly a wife. Though I’m old, I only desire to be a child–to simply relish with childlike faith the sight of God’s Gift in the face of Messiah, the One for whom I’d lived and breathed all these years.
I take a deep breath and walk several steps to sidle up to a man I’ve heard is called Simeon. Thus, I claim my place here beside this stranger that I, too, might behold the beauty of a Baby.
Tomorrow… yes, tomorrow–perhaps I’ll speak of Messiah’s purpose, and I’ll likely be hated by some. For there are those–many, in fact–who don’t want to hear that Emmanuel came for more than just the Jews–that he came, too, for Gentiles. It’s for all our darkened places that he came as the Light–yes, for our salvation.
But right now, I simply want to bask in his presence–
Capture the diamonds dancing in his light…
Trace rainbows through my tears.