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by Dobrodiyka Cornelia Bilinsky
Joachim stood at the doorway of his home and called to his wife. ..
“Anna,” he shouted, “I am leaving now. I am going to the temple to offer our gift to the Lord.”
Anna was in the kitchen, making bread, but she came running out, her hands coated in flour. Joachim's heart overflowed with love when he saw her. Her hair was graying and wrinkles had settled around her eyes, but he thought she was beautiful.
“God go with you, Joachim,” Anna said, “and when you get to the temple, don't forget to pray for you know what.”
Joachim looked into Anna's mournful eyes and smiled sadly. “I won't forget,” he promised. He embraced his wife and turned to the gate where a young ram was tethered. He untied the ram and led it down the road.
Anna watched him for a moment and then returned to the kitchen. As she kneaded the dough and braided it into a loaf, her thoughts went up to God, as they often did.
“Lord,” she said, “you have blessed me in many ways. I have a good and upright man for a husband. I have a beautiful home and enough work to keep my hands busy. For all this, I thank you, Lord. But one thing is still missing and I am very sad. Joachim and I are getting older and we still do not have a child. What have we done wrong that you do not bless us, Lord? We try to use our wealth wisely. We give to the poor and we support the temple.”
As Anna thought about the temple, a flash of hope lifted her burdened spirit. Today Joachim would offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Today he would pray before the Lord in the temple. “The Lord will surely hear his prayer,” Anna said to herself, “and the Lord will surely bless us.”
Joachim did not wait until he had reached the temple to start his prayer. It was his habit to talk to God as he walked along no matter where he was going. As soon as he was on his way he began. “Lord,” he said, “you have blessed me in so many ways and I thank you. I have a faithful loving woman for a wife. I have many fine flocks and a beautiful home. But one thing is still missing and I am very sad. Anna and I are getting older and we still do not have a child. Our neighbours look at us and shake their heads. They wonder why you have not blessed us. Are we being punished, Lord, for something we did that was terribly wrong? But for what sins? For what sins?” Joachim wondered.
When Joachim reached the temple, he stood in line with the other men, ready to offer his ram as a sacrifice to the Lord. “May this offering, “he prayed silently, “make up for the sins of the people and especially for my sins, that I may receive forgiveness and that this punishment be taken away from me.”
When it was his turn, he stood before the high priest, who asked him his name.
“I am Joachim of Nazareth and my wife is Anna of Bethlehem.”
The high priest looked at him closely. “Yes, I know who you are. But why are you here? Do you not know that it is against the law for a childless man to offer sacrifices to the Lord? You have no children; therefore you have no status here. I cannot allow you to offer your ram.”
Joachim stared at the high priest in disbelief but the high priest only waved him away. Joachim turned in confusion and ran out of the temple, burning with shame and anger. The punishment was too great. He was not even allowed to offer a gift to the Lord – just because he was childless. How could he go home to Anna and tell her this? She would be heartbroken. Though it would soon be nightfall, Joachim decided that he could not go home. He wandered alone into the desert where he fell upon his knees and prayed in anguish. The hours passed and still Joachim prayed in the desert. With the first rays of early morning light, a new idea dawned on him. Perhaps the Lord did not need a sacrifice of a young ram. Perhaps the Lord wanted something more. Joachim was ready to offer more.
“Lord,” he said, “if you bless us with a child, we will offer the child to You, for Your service.” The words were no sooner out of his mouth when he realized the pain in his heart was gone and he was at peace.. Suddenly he was surrounded by a strange and beautiful light and a voice began to speak to him.
In the meantime, Anna was sick with worry. Someone had told her what had happened in the temple, how Joachim had been shamed and turned away. And Joachim had not come home that night. Where was he? Anna could no longer stand it, waiting in the house, not knowing.
She ran out into the garden. Here, in her garden among the flowers and songs of birds, she often found peace. Trembling and weeping, she sank to her knees in prayer.
"O Lord, hear me when I call out to you! Joachim and I are shamed among our own people. How long must I wait to be a mother, Lord? Even the birds in my garden have babies in their nests, but my arms are empty. Lord, fill my empty womb with new life and then my heart will be filled with joy.” A sudden new thought flashed through her mind, and she added: “ If I should be blessed with a child, I would gladly offer that child to you, for your service. For your service, O Lord.”
Suddenly, Anna was surrounded by a strange and beautiful light. An angel in white garments stood before her. Startled, Anna held her breath as the angel began to speak.
“Anna, God has heard your prayer. You shall bear a child, and your child will be blessed throughout the whole world.” With these words, the angel disappeared.
For a moment, Anna thought she had been dreaming. But no, she was in the garden, not in her bed, and the birds were still singing their early morning songs. The words of the angel echoed in her head. “You shall bear a child and your child will be blessed throughout the whole world!”
Anna's joy was almost too great to bear. Where was Joachim? She had to find Joachim. She had to tell him. Perhaps he was still at the temple. But no, she had been told he had left the temple. Where did he go? Maybe someone at the temple would know where he had gone. Anna started running down the road, only one thought on her mind. She would find Joachim and she would tell him what the angel had said.
In the meantime, Joachim was running too, running out of the desert and toward the temple. He had seen the beautiful light, he had heard the voice, and the voice told him what he had so long wanted to hear. Anna was going to have a child and the child would be blessed throughout the whole world. He wanted to run home, to tell Anna, but the angel had told him to run to the temple gate. If that was what the angel wanted, then he would do it. He would offer a prayer of thanks at the temple gate and then he would run home to Anna.
By the time Joachim drew near the temple gate, he was panting, his face flushed and his heart beating rapidly. Suddenly, he saw someone running towards him. It was a woman. It was Anna! He picked up speed and raced toward her, his arms outstretched. Anna stretched out her arms in response, rushed forward and fell into her husband's arms, right in front of the Golden Gate of the Temple.
“Anna,” Joachim began, when he found his breath, “You wouldn't believe …I saw an angel in the desert. He told me…”
“Joachim!” Anna interrupted, her eyes and her voice full of excitement , “ I saw the angel too! In the garden! Joachim, we have been blessed! We are going to have a child!”
Joachim picked up his wife and twirled her around. “What joy!” he cried, “What joy!” Then he remembered.
“Anna,” he spoke in a serious tone, “I made a promise to the Lord. I promised that if we should have a child, we would offer that child to the Lord, for his service.” He watched intently for Anna's reaction. What would she say? He was worried about what she would say.
But Anna laughed joyfully.
“Joachim, I did the same! I promised the Lord that if I should be blessed with a child, I would gladly offer that child to His service! O Joachim, I think this is what the Lord wants.”
“Yes, “ agreed Joachim, “It is what the Lord wants. Our child will have a special purpose, which only the Lord knows.”
Again the couple embraced, tears of joy streaming down their faces.
“What lies ahead, we do not know,” said Joachim, “but we will do our part. Come, let's go home, Anna, and make our home ready for a new life.”
Arm in arm, Joachim and Anna walked back to their home.
When the time came, a baby girl was born to Anna and Joachim. The new parents were overjoyed and grateful to God for the blessing of a child. They named the girl Mary. They loved and cared for their baby girl as any loving parents would. When Mary was still a little girl, they took her to the temple and offered her to the service of the Lord. For Mary, the temple was a school of learning about God. There she learned to know God, to love God and to serve God. With obedience and humility, she did whatever tasks were assigned to her at the temple. She spent time in prayer, listening to the Lord with all her heart, wondering what else was in store for her life. Later, when she was still a young maiden and betrothed to a man named Joseph, the future unfolded for her. The angel Gabriel came to her with the news that she would give birth to the Son of God and his name would be Jesus.