Joachim and Anna were faithful, pious, cheerful, peaceful, dedicated, welcoming, pleasant, personable, generous, kind, openhearted, friendly … just plain nice.
They were “good people.” They were the kind of couple that you were always glad to have over for dinner. They remembered all the birthdays, they sent nice notes to cheer you up, they showed up at all the viewings at the funeral homes.
They were happy together, as all married couples should be.
But there was an aching heart at the center of their home.
There was no child, no baby, no slamming of the screen doors and the peals of delight at the first day of summer, no crayon masterpieces on the fridge door.
This ache, thus, is easy to understand. A child -- or children -- is an expected fulfillment of marriage. What is begun in the nuptial, joyful embrace of husband and wife is perfected by the bringing forth and raising up of a daughter or son.
For Joachim and Anna -- this wonderful, nice couple -- the ache of childlessness was even harder then than it is now. Society can be cruel and judgmental. As Joachim and Anna grew older, the nasty gossip in the neighborhood started to turn against them. Anna was called “barren,” and people made up theories about just why they didn’t have a child. Perhaps God was judging them, the gossipers said, because of some past sin. Perhaps something was wrong with Joachim.
When people don’t love who they’r talking about, and when they don’t actually know what they’re talking about, the guesswork of gossip is always wrong, and always destructive. Thank heaven, at least, there were no phones back then: the situation would have been even worse.
And so, the loneliness that was at the aching heart of this nice couple spread outside the home and into the entire neighborhood.
It is obvious that Joachim and Anna did not give up. They persisted. They kept their faith. They believed, without missing a beat, that God is infinite, and that God is good. They kept in their heart the shining hope that God is the “Keeper of Promises” and the “Giver of Second Chances.”
He is the Redeemer and Rescuer: it is the main job of humans to believe this no matter what.
They kept on fasting. They kept attending the prayers, the chanting of Psalms at the Temple. They kept giving charity to the needy around them. They kept to their humble lifestyles, working with their hands. They kept to being meek, poor in spirit, hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
When their neighborhood got cruel, and society turned its back on them, Joachim and Anna simply turned more to the Lord.
That is what God’s people do, even when the people of the world do not.
* * * * * * *
It is obvious that this story has a happy ending, because today is, after all, the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos: Anna gave birth to Mary, the Ever-Virgin and Mother of the Church, the Body of Christ.
The neighborhood and the world had already written off Anna because she was “too old.” It was now long past the age of childbearing for her. She was called “barren” behind her back and probably to her face.
But they still prayed. One day, Joachim, who was a shepherd, went into the desert to pray. While he was away, Anna prayed. As she did, she looked at a nest in the garden, and she saw hatchlings being fed by their mother.
“Why was I born?” Anna said out loud in her sadness. An angel of the Lord appeared, and told her that she would soon bear a little baby girl, and that she should call her Mary.
At the same time, Joachim was also greeted by an angel, who had announced to him the same glad tidings. He hurried back to Jerusalem, and amazingly, Anna hurried to the entrance gate of the city.
In the greatest love story of all time, this wonderful, nice couple -- who never fell out of love, who remained faithful to God and each other, even in desperate sadness, even in the face of loneliness, contempt and neighborhood gossip -- reached each other at the same place and at the same time …
… at Jerusalem’s Golden Gate, where in joy and love, they embraced …
… in a scene that has become the greatest Christian symbol for nuptial happiness, peace, and fruition.
Joachim and Anna, in this embrace at the Golden Gate, is what every Christian marriage should grow up to be.
Nine months later, a little girl was born … a little girl that would change the world
* * * * * * *
It was happiness enough for that little house in Jerusalem to be filled with the sounds of a little girl.
But it was joy of the soul and overflowing to know that this little girl would become the Ever-Virgin Mother of God, who would lead the Church in the millennial Kingdom of Prayer, all throughout the spiritual and symbolic thousand years of the reign of the saints.
How could Joachim and Anna have ever known, in their struggle, that their Grandson would one day tell the chief Jewish Elder, in a secret meeting on a Jerusalem night (some fifty years into the future), these words -- the most Important Words Ever Spoken For All Time (and Eternity):
For God so loved the world,
that He gave His Only-Begotten Son,
that whosoever should believe in Him
should not perish,
but have everlasting life.
Joachim and Anna’s long disappointment and struggle, the long heartache and loneliness -- all this that they experienced was actually part of the Greatest Plan of All Time, the deepest mystery that kings and prophets and even angels longed to understand, because they could sense it in God’s nature of love, but they couldn’t ever quite grasp.
And all along, God was working this out, and bringing His “For God so loved the world” idea to fruition … to this nice couple, who were happy together …
… who were happy in God.
* * * * * * *
Think about it: the great Cosmic Plan, the most secret and powerful mystery ever known -- far more powerful than anything dreamt up by conspiracy theorists … a Cosmic Plan so large that it extends beyond this planet and out into the galaxy and beyond the boundaries of the universe …
… this Cosmic Plan came down to a single Love Story, so romantic and humble, between a man and a woman who stayed faithful through disappointment.
They prayed. They stayed. They waited on God to fill their emptiness, to encourage their discouragement.
And so should you.