Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

She is the ultimate grandmother, the grandmother of God. Most of us know our time will pass, but she became lost in the glare of history the moment she held a baby girl and named her “Mary.” Anne is the model for all of us who have a small role in making a place for greater people.

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about her, but we can infer that she was amazing from the Scriptural facts and church tradition agrees with our guess. Anne raised a child that turned out to be, well, one who said the deepest “yes” to God and this beats “my daughter the doctor” or “my daughter the lawyer” hands down.

Church tradition tells us that Anne was yet another in the long line of Biblical women who prayed for a baby and received one by a miracle. God chose well, because the resourceful Anne got her daughter out of Nazareth and sent her to Elizabeth when things got too hot on the home front.

What does Anne teach us this Advent?

If you are a parent, the time comes when you realize that your kids story is no longer just part of your own. They begin to have ideas and experiences that do not center in home. If you are very lucky, as Hope and I have been in our older children, they surpass you and the day comes when people speak to you as “his father” or “her mother”

You have become a supporting player in a bigger tale. What parent isn’t thrilled with that event?

Anne must have been. Her daughter was Mary and her grandson was Jesus. Her son-in-law was only sort of Joseph, but was really God. God is not the sort to tolerate in-law problems so there was no chance Anne would fail to find her place.

Anne knew her place and managed to make history possible by not making history. She did not crush her daughter’s spirit and Anne faded from view as her grandson began his ministry. Making the space for someone else will never get headlines, but it is vital.

When I think of my own grandmothers, I think of Anne. One grandmother, my Nana, labored for years making Christmas pageants that were not embarrassing and that actually said something to the people who watched. Probably few outside the family remember her this Christmas, but anybody who has been positively helped by my Mom and Dad or any of the second generation are receiving a piece of her life and ministry.

My other grandmother was also a pillar of her church giving her life to resources to keep it going in difficult times. Most vitally, she created a home that for my entire childhood was the safe haven, the last homely home,where order, security, and love could be found. She was civilized without stuffiness and with her Martha spirit she made a place for fun even when she did not get to experience it. When I am tired, I often imagine I am back at her house having a diet Coke, or sliding down the banister, or listening to my grandfather tell stories while she cooked a pot rost.

A piece of her is in any bit of peace I know. Both my grandmothers were so much more than mothers and grandmothers . . . so interesting and alive, but I can only remember them as I knew them so I can only pass them on to you with those memories.

They served, they were holy, they loved us well.

These two women were like Anne in that for most of their lives they were the mothers of their children and their children were able to be more “successful” because of this service. If you ask anyone about Saint Anne, and if they have a clue who you mean, they will know only that she was the “mother of Mary.” Her daughter’s reputation for holiness and her grandson’s divinity threaten to swallow her up.

Moderns might complain, but Anne was satisfied. She knew that her whole person would not be swallowed up, because her service as grandmother had actually been to God and God would not forget her or reduce her to a role.

It is her willingness to become “less”to the rest of us that made Anne great. I cannot aspire to being as humble and as wise as Mary, the Mother of God. To be like the Christ is every Christian’s goal, but it is as unattainable in this life as the Holy Grail. What I can hope is that I serve the saints and become less so that Jesus can become great.

I can fade away into the background so that people can hear His Word. Like Anne I can make a home to raise the child or grandchild that will do great things for God.

Nobody may remember my name except in the light of that small service as everything else is forgotten, but if I have served Jesus, God in the flesh, then it is enough.

God in the flesh loves His grandmother. If He alone remembered her name or the charming things she did, it would be enough. If she picked Him up after He fell, then she was comforting the Creator. If she cooked Him a meal, she was foreshadowing the great Feast to come. If she washed Him, she prepared Him for His baptism. Every service she did to Him was mythic and every deed she did for Him will live forever in His mind.

We, of course, are not the parents of Mary or the grandparents of Jesus in the same way as Anne, but if our children are believers in a sense we are like she was. Christ is within them and our service is ultimately to God when we serve them. This is true of any human being if we do not make them an idol or an end to themselves. Every service to every man or woman created in His image is service to Him. Every act would do to a soul created in God’s likeness is a service we do to Him.

He will not forget it or us and He is generous in His rewards. We will not, thank God, get what we deserve, but He will make much of our small virtues and has redeemed our sins by His own blood.

It is good to serve God following the example of Holy Anne, grandmother of God.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.

Tags

Loading...

Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles