Please bear with me as I tell my story. I want everyone to understand that I’m not just some crazy old woman.
Everyone delighted in Mary. Giving, loving and forgiving describe her. To teach a child like her was a pleasure. She eagerly learned things of the spirit as well as the ways of everyday living, which many call mundane. Mary’s aged father died before her sixth birthday and her gentle mother not many years later. Though sad for her heartache, I thrilled to step in to meet a young girl’s needs. We were as close as a mother and child, a sweet gift to a childless widow like me. As she neared womanhood, her graceful countenance reminded me of a gazelle – swift in purpose, full of poise. The women who lived with us in the Temple often commented about how happy Mary would make her future husband. But I knew something the other women did not.
“Anna,” Mary confided one afternoon as we sewed vestments. “You were there when my parents presented me to God. Do you remember?”
The scene flashed through my mind. I smiled, “Oh, yes, child.”
“And I took a vow of virginity.”
“Yes,” I replied, curious as to where the conversation would go.
“Anna,” she nearly pleaded, “my vow was for life. I never intend to take a husband.”
The linen dropped from my hands. I looked intently into her midnight blue eyes that allowed her soul to emerge, eyes that now glistened. She is definitely sincere. But I know the rules. She stays here until her womanhood when the priest chooses her betrothed. I opened my mouth to remind her but, to my utter amazement, I said, “Yes, Mary. And you will remain a virgin. I don’t know how but something in me believes God will intervene on your behalf. Your vow will not be broken.” Salty streams traveled down the crevices of my time worn face.
Mary lowered her head. We picked up our sewing and remained silent.
All of Israel knows the Holy of Holies can only be entered by the High Priest. In fact, he enters only on the Day of Atonement. Was it her spiritual devotion combined with her unusual demeanor that led the High Priest to disregard that law? Or did an angel direct him?
Late into one evening I prayed in the Court of Women, and heard the priest enter the Inner Court. I’m certain I did not dream this, even though my eyes fluttered open. He was not alone. My Mary, as I called her, stepped softly as the deer behind him, wearing a veil over her bowed head. I lowered my eyes, then peeked to see them both kneel before the Altar of Sacrifice. I threw my hand over my mouth when, with not a word spoken between them, they arose, moved up the steps and past the Altar of Incense, and through the Holy Place. He lifted the Veil and they entered the Holy of Holies. Instantly I shut my eyes and began to pray. I hope they don’t hear my pounding heart and realize they’re not alone.
I’m thankful that the spirit of God led me into the secret place in my heart, where I have no awareness of time or space, the place that is nothing of me and everything of God. I wanted to think of nothing, not what my imagination might lead me to.
A slight movement below caused me to stir just in time to witness a radiant child exit the Holy of Holies. Instinctively, I lowered my head out of respect. Even as my heart questioned what I saw, I sensed that one day God would reveal the meaning of the event. From that day forward, Mary and I spent more hours than usual in prayer and fasting. Though we never spoke a word of that night, I think she knew I knew.
The time when Mary reached the age of maturity came too soon for me. According to the Law of Moses, she should return to her parents’ house or to her betrothed. Her parents, as I mentioned, were deceased. The day approached for the choosing of her betrothed by the chief priest. She rushed into my quarters one afternoon, her face flushed with color and her brows deeply furrowed.
“Mary! What’s wrong, my child?”
She slid to the floor and placed her head on my lap, “This cannot be.” She tried to suppress a loud sob.
I closed my eyes as I smoothed her hair away from her face. Oh, God give me insight. “Mary, try not to be afraid. You were chosen by God to remain pure. We must rest in Him.” She sat by me long into the evening. Neither of us spoke again that night.
The next day, before dawn, we met for prayer. It was the eighth day of our fast and the day a betrothed would be chosen. Several young men and their families had bathed outside the Huldah Gate and waited in the Plaza.
We watched from the Court of Women. The entire process of choosing a betrothed I had not witnessed in all my years and to this day have not seen again. One by one, men were disqualified. The priest called all remaining eligible men to meet in the council chamber. Each man dragged himself with head hung low, shoulders drooped, and no smile.
Though our fast could be broken the next morning Mary and I chose to keep it. Three days later the applicants returned. I glanced at Mary as we entered the court at about the same time as the men. I marveled. She is perfectly serene. The applicants each carried a fresh lily stalk, which they handed the priest. The priest took the stalks into the sanctuary.
After what seemed hours, the priest exited the sanctuary and handed each stalk to its owner. Spots appeared on each stalk. Except one. Only the stalk that belonged to Joseph remained fresh and unblemished, its bloom fresh and full. To the priest it meant that Joseph, the carpenter, was the chosen spouse.
Some people present thought the test wasn’t good enough, which provoked the priest. He demanded a dove be brought to him. And then he called for Mary. With her head held low, and without a hint of anxiety, she glided down the steps to the feet of the priest where she then knelt.
“Rise,” he gently commanded. “Now, take this dove. Walk into the center of the candidates, and when you reach them, let it fly freely.”
As she carried the white bird to the waiting candidates, the priest spoke loudly, “Watch this, you false interpreters of the sign of God! This creature – pure and innocent – cannot hear our discussion. It lives in the will of the Lord. It only understands the language of God. Hold your stalks high! Once this maiden frees the dove, it will settle on a stalk and then on the head of the man who owns it. The man it settles on shall take Mary.”
At the priest’s direction, Mary released the dove. It settled on Joseph’s head.
Joseph was visibly shaken. He voiced his fear at taking in a maiden since he was an older man with four grown sons.
But after praying, the priest pronounced that God had made the choice. And he blessed Joseph saying, “Joseph, the Lord has found you just. And, so, He chose you. Go in peace and let it be.”
My mind swirled with wild thoughts. My heart beat like wings of a bird chased by his predator. But when I met Mary to help gather her things to leave, she took my hand and whispered, “God has fulfilled His Word.”
And though I didn’t understand, a sense of perfect contentment washed over me. Still, a great sadness to let her go found its way into my heart.
For two years not a day passed without a prayer for Mary and her betrothed. Had they consummated their marriage? According to Mary’s confirmation, impossible!
One day I awoke with a quickening in my spirit. I hurried to prayer, elated to see ancient Simeon at Temple that day. His presence here since the days in Alexandria, when he worked on the translation of Holy Scripture to Greek, confirmed the hope of wondrous things in store for us all. After all, when an angel speaks, it is surely Truth. It was easy for me to believe God kept Simeon on this earth for three hundred years in order that the angelic words would come to pass. But I often wondered if I would have the chance to rejoice with him. At eighty-four, my aching bones were ready for a final rest.
Around the fifth hour, word spread that a first-born male would be presented to the Lord. I hurried to the court inside Huldah Gate in search of the joyful occasion. It’s wonderful to witness the presentation of a boy baby. I followed Simeon through the throngs of people and nearly fainted when we reached them. This baby’s mother is my Mary. No! God promised!
While my mind raced to untangle memories and promises, old Simeon whisked the child from Mary. He raised the baby toward heaven and pronounced, “O God, my King, now you have released your servant so that I may depart in peace as you promised. Because my eyes have seen your Salvation, whose appearance you have long prepared so that all the world will see. He is the glory of your people, Israel, and the Light who will reveal the hidden ways of God to the nations.”
I fell to my knees and clasped my hands. My heart told me his words were Truth.
The child’s parents looked at Simeon wide-eyed. He faced my Mary, “I tell you, this infant shall fall into the depths and rise again, and this sign will cause great division among many in Israel. It will be like a sword slicing into your own soul, as well. And the thoughts of hearts will be revealed.” Simeon carefully set the child into his father’s arms and bowed his head.
I stood up and inched my way to the family. I squeezed past the whisperers who wondered about the old man’s words. At her side, I spoke softly, “Mary.” She pivoted at the sound of my voice and threw herself into my frail arms. After a few moments, I pulled back and peered into her calm and gentle eyes. Her vow has been kept. Tears spilled down my cheeks. I twisted away then, to meet the eyes of her quiet infant and smiled. He knows me. I’m certain.
I raised my arms to heaven. I rejoiced and gave thanks to the Lord who is good. And I spoke the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The Lord will give you a miraculous sign. A virgin will give birth to a son. She will proclaim him Emmanuel. Emmanuel – God is among us.” Do you hear me, people?
From that day, I continue to proclaim with newfound energy to all who choose to hear: The redemption of Jerusalem, and of all peoples, is at hand!
Based on the story in Luke 2:22-38
*EXCERPT from the book WHO IS JESUS? 1st Century Eyewitnesses Tell Their Stories, by Cheryl Ann Wills
© 2014 by Lumen Christi Press
Grandview, Missouri, USA
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