Finding Tidings of Great Joy As a Temple Ordinance Worker

Merry Christmas! I love Luke's narrative of the Savior's birth in the New Testament. One of my favorite parts of his story line occurs after the baby Jesus is born. Luke introduces us to Simeon (a devout man), and Anna the Prophetess (a temple worker). They are the last people woven into Luke's account of the nativity. He describes the scenario as follows: 

Jewish law required Joseph and Mary to bring the 40-day-old infant Jesus to be presented at the temple. Simeon and Anna were in the temple when the young family entered in. Immediately and simultaneously, Simeon and Anna recognized the baby as the Savior of the world. To Simeon, the Spirit had previously revealed "that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (Luke 2: 26). Thus, prompted by the Spirit, Simeon hastened to the temple and the prophecy was fulfilled. I love Simeon's exclamation when he looked upon the Christ child:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to they word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people. 

Artist: Greg Olson

Then there's Anna. Biblical scholar, Robin Gallagher Branch gives insight into Anna and her lifestyle:

Regarding Anna, Luke provides three terse verses that manage to vividly depict her as a woman deserving the honor bestowed on the elderly in the ancient Mediterranean world. The appositive 'prophetess' heads her description (Luke 2:25). In this she outranks Simeon, a man praised as righteous and devout (Luke 2:25) who may be a priest because he holds the baby Jesus. Anna is the New Testament's only named female prophetess. As a prophetess, Anna receives insight into things that normally remain hidden to ordinary people; she recognizes who this child is and tells of His significance to selected people in Jerusalem.

Luke dwells on Anna's advanced age...and her widowhood when she meets the young family. She worships night and day [in the temple], fasting and praying. Her lifestyle evidently invigorates her, for she is mobile, articulate, alert, spiritually savvy and unselfish. Luke indicates that her habits of worship, prayer and fasting represent a routine, probably one of decades. She listens to God and prays as directed. Others recognize her as a prophetess. The work of prayer indeed characterizes a prophet. Anna knows fasting brings results. With this in mind, Anna shows one model of aging in the Biblical text. Luke presents her positively, as a woman without the bitterness that may come with age and as one full of hope. As she moves throughout the Temple, no doubt she seeks to do good to those whom she encounters. Luke's description shows her as well adjusted, engaged in Israel's life and useful to the Lord ("Bible History Daily," Biblical Archaeology Society, 2013).

My Christmastime Contemplation: Converging Two Worlds

As an ordinance worker in the Oakland Temple, I often think about Simeon---but I especially think about Anna. In fact, her example is one of the reasons I became an ordinance worker. Anna spent years preparing herself to see Christ and temple work was a large part of her preparation. I, too, seek the Savior's face and hope one day to behold His countenance. This month of December is my first as a temple worker while celebrating the Savior's birth. In January, my husband and I will have completed our first year as ordinance workers. Unlike Anna, I don't yet have the luxury to serve in the temple on a full time basis. Like other Church members, I must straddle my temporal and spiritual worlds. Still, my two worlds become increasingly confluent---and will one day be singular. The Doctrine & Covenants teaches this principle of singularity:

For by the power of my Spirit created I them; yea, all things both spiritual and temporal. First spiritual, secondly temporal, which is the beginning of my work; and again, first temporal, and secondly spiritual, which is the last of my work. Wherefore all things unto me are spiritual (D&C 29: 32-34).

I'm still trying to understand and apply this principle more fully. And my year as an ordinance worker has given me a new sense of personal clarity---but not without some confusion along the way. During this Christmas season, I've been contemplating Simeon, Anna, and my nearly full year of temple service. So I've come up with the following juxtaposition:

My Temporal Profession as a School Teacher

My Spiritual “Profession” as a Temple Worker/Teacher

  • As a college instructor, I serve my students.

  • As a temple worker, I serve “my” patrons.

  • Students are not patrons.

  • Patrons are spiritual students.

  • My classroom is not an ordinance room.

  • The ordinance rooms are classrooms for spiritual instruction.

  • I must speak loudly when in front of the class.

  • I speak in a whisper when giving instructions. (And it’s not easy.)

  • I must work hard at gaining and maintaining the attention and focus of my students during class.

  • Temple work is not about me. I must be all but invisible as I quietly serve patrons.

  • I’m a visible facilitator of knowledge to my students.

  • The Spirit is the facilitator of knowledge to patrons.

  • When I make a mistake in front of students, I feel self-conscious.

  • When I make a mistake, I not only distract the patron, I detract the Spirit. Thus, I feel very self-conscious---and a little guilty.

  • I must persuade and motivate.

  • The Spirit persuades and motivates.

  • I evaluate and grade student performance.

  • I must carefully listen to the patrons’ words, but I do not evaluate or judge patrons.

  • I connect with my students in verbal ways.

  • I connect with patrons in mostly non-verbal ways.

  • I’m self-conscious about my appearance and performance in front of a class.

  • Temple workers and patrons dress alike in white. I can pretty much work unnoticed.

  • I teach secular knowledge to my students. However, this knowledge often contains eternal truths. Sometimes I feel the Spirit when I teach.

  • The knowledge gained in the temple is first spiritual, and second temporal or secular. I always feel the Spirit.

 "Simeon and Anna Recognize the Lord in Jesus" by Rembrandt

Surely, operating within these two spheres brings congruity and contradiction simultaneously. Consequently, I sometimes get disoriented as to my presence and role as facilitator in a secular university versus the spiritual university called "the temple." Jesus Christ was the perfect example of spiritual and temporal congruence. These became one and the same to Him. Christ also grew perfectly congruent with God the Father in every way. And our life's purpose is to learn and apply these same lessons of congruity.Temple attendance aids us in this process as we learn to shed old behavioral patterns and learn new ones.

For me, I felt prompted to go a step further: I realized that becoming an ordinance worker would further my knowledge. (We all know that a teacher learns more when teaching a lesson than the audience who sits and listens.) Likewise, an ordinance worker is required to give instructions to patrons. In other words, to teach and repeat to patrons eternal ordinances. Additionally, regularly working 10 hour shifts enables me to spend more time within the walls of the temple. Like Anna, this time furthers my opportunity for reflection and contemplation. Like Anna, I am an older woman whose children are grown and married. Like Anna, I have more time to devote to temple work. Like Anna, I know my devotion includes time as a temple worker---not "just"as temple patron. And like Anna, I'm gaining much more understanding and insight into God's magnificent design. Someday, I hope to be as strong as Anna: instructed and prepared; a spiritually powerful prophetess who prophesies glad tidings about our Savior Jesus Christ.

Oh tidings of comfort and joy,