Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
‘Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.’ (Proverbs 31.28-29)
My name is Anne. It’s no use searching your Bible for me, I’m not there, don’t even get a mention. Look in the Qur’an and you’ll find me there. I’m described as highly spiritual, they call me Hannah and it says that I’m married to Imran but others say that I’m married to Joachim. It’s all very confusing.
The thing is that I was old, we’d wanted children but, well it just never seemed to happen for us. I’d known a few women in our family that this happened to. It made some of them bitter, unhappy, as though they were unfulfilled. But, you know, I trusted God, that God knew best.
Then one day I was out. I’d been to the well to collect water. It was winter, the beginning of December and so I was amazed with what I saw. There in a tree was a bird, but not just a bird but one feeding its chick. This wasn’t the season for chicks to be born but here it was. Something stirred inside me, a desire for a child that I’d never quite felt in this way before.
I went home with the filled water jar and said nothing to my husband but instead I prayed. You can read what then happened to me, not in the Bible as I said, but in something written by James, much later. He recorded the event like this
Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: ‘Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive, and shall bring forth; and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world.’ And Anna said: ‘As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.’ (From the Protoevangelium of James)
It was a few days later, the 8th December, I remember it well. I knew – don’t ask me how, it’s a woman thing – I knew that I’d conceived, that a child, God’s blessing was growing in my womb. Over the weeks and months ahead I was proved right. My neighbours and friends were amazed – they’d written me off as ‘barren’. How I hated that word, it made me sound like a useless piece of land whereas God knew that I was fruitful.
It was just as the intense heat of summer changed to the cooler days of September that the child was born. I’d meant what I said to that angel, that I didn’t mind if it was a boy or a girl. When the midwife held up the screaming baby I saw that it was a girl – and she was a gift from God.
We named her Mary; she was an immaculate baby; she was a wonderful girl and as I looked into her eyes as she grew it was like looking into eyes that saw heaven.
I don’t really mind that no one plays me in a nativity play, that many people don’t know my name. Some of us in life are in the wings – and that’s ok – we can’t all be centre stage. But I smile when I see little girls playing my beautiful Mary because the story couldn’t have happened without me – and God.
God of surprises,
as you heard Anne’s prayers
and surpassed them in blessing
so hear our prayers this Christmas
and startle us with your goodness.