This Christmas, I’m pondering the grittier, truer side of the nativity narrative through the lens of a refugee mother who waits with her children for their dream of liberation. I’m also contemplating the character of a God who rescues even the most marginalized among us.
When I met this blazing high-school junior, I could tell she had a fire in her gut that compelled her to contend for things that matter to God. This was her God-given gift to the world, yet she shattered the mold of a typical, “godly young woman,” and lost interest in organized religion.
Not an uncommon story.
While the institution of the church in the West is arguably in decline, wise women, young and old, are finding their way to Jesus, starting revolutions of love against society’s degradation.
I remember that Christmas when what I wanted most in the whole world was to be having a baby. We had been hoping to have children for a while, but after some tests we were waiting for an appointment with fertility specialists. It was November when we got the news that conceiving on our own might not be possible, and I was devastated. As Christmas got closer, the last thing I wanted to hear about was pregnancy and babies – and here we were entering a season where a story involving those exact things was all around me.
Merry Christmas from The Junia Project! Today our gift to you is this thoughtful and poignant reflection about what women truly want for Christmas. May it be more so in 2017! “While in line at a downtown grocery store, a magazine headline caught my eye, “What Women Long For this Christmas.” The subtitle implied the article would be a resource for gift options or tips on how to relieve women of the hustle and bustle of their inevitable Christmas furry. I rolled my eyes at yet another sentimental and incomplete interpretation of the wants of women. Beyond our shopping lists and our frenzied schedule of the holiday season, what women long for this Christmas is as provocative as it is revolutionary.”
Few women in the Bible are more interesting, inspiring and the focus of devotion as Mary, mother of Jesus. With the Advent season upon us, she is receiving even more attention. Tomes of theology and vast collections of art have been created in her honor. When we consider the Christmas story, Mary comes a very close second to Jesus himself as a the leading character — and with good reason. This brave young woman was the human vessel in which the God-made-flesh was conceived. It was from her own strong body that the body of Christ was birthed into the world.
Christmas is coming. We are in the season of Advent, a time of waiting. Advent is the story of women. It is the story of infertility, long awaited hopes, unplanned pregnancy, miracles, labor, birth, redemption, and new life. And this story of women is the story of Christianity, of waiting for the Messiah, and waiting for redemption.
The story of advent begins with Elizabeth, a woman who has been unable to conceive throughout her life, and is beyond her child bearing years. Her experience of infertility, and the disappointment of being unable to conceive is uniquely feminine. She lives the story and struggle that only a woman can know. Then God steps into her world.
Along with Christmas, Advent is the glorious and only time of year when Christians across the theological spectrum can agree on women’s participation in God’s work.
In Advent, we do not exclude women from signaling God’s presence (Isaiah 7:14). Let the day arrive when the whole Church* welcomes women’s ordained service in mediating the Divine!
In Advent, we acknowledge the strong-willed, outsider women who shaped Jesus’ lineage (especially Tamar, Rahab and Ruth in Matthew 1:1-5). Let the day quickly come when the Church heeds women’s voices speaking prophetically from the margins!
Impromptu nativity reenactments are one of my favorite Christmas traditions.
In our home, someone reads from the Gospel account and we bring out a big pile of potential costumes for everyone to chose a part and act it out on the spot. It’s a beautiful mess.
Anika, my 5 year old, wants to be Mary this year. Her personality doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotypical Mary persona, so putting her in pastels and having her sit quietly as a “humble servant of the Lord” feels like a stretch. Anika is bold, mischievous, clever, wild and adventuresome. Not your typical mild and meek mother of Jesus depicted in nativity figurines and Christmas art. Yet I wonder if she resembles some of the characteristics of the real Mary more than tradition would have us believe.
Recently, I heard a sermon preached almost entirely on Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew. I was visiting a church I attended in my youth, a place where I learned a lot of what I’ve needed to unlearn about theology of women. I was delighted to see that the pastor immediately picked out the women in the narrative, a little disappointed to realize that he did so only to point out that they were all foreigners, with the exception of Mary. But this got me thinking in another direction, as sermons so often do. I began to think through these five women, to question what else they might have in common.
Being nurtured in a Wesleyan Holiness tradition, I have not always had a deep appreciation for Mary of Nazareth. Protestants in our world may neglect, either intentionally or unintentionally, the most obvious and powerful example of Jesus treasuring women: his mother. The gospel writers depict Mary in various ways, with the author of the Gospel of Luke providing the most insight.
The gospel writers depict Mary in various ways, with the author of the Gospel of Luke providing the most insight. In Luke 1:28-30 the angel Gabriel approaches the young virgin with these words:
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”
The incarnation is mysterious in mechanics, but the reality of it is crucial for theology. God chooses to speak with women. God chooses and favors women for crucial tasks and at crucial times. It is directly stated in the bible that Mary is intentionally chosen and given a grand task that includes, but also extends beyond, childbearing.
Perhaps the most revealing glimpse into Mary’s true character can be found in the Magnificat…a bold and subversive prayer that reveals her own hopes for this special child and the future of Israel.
Like the other women of advent, Bathsheba also has a troubled past. And Bathsheba also acts righteously, though it’s a story we don’t often hear about. Opinions about Bathsheba tend to fall on a continuum between two extremes: 1) she was a temptress who seduced David, or 2) she was an innocent victim and David raped her. Whether one considers her guilty or innocent, Bathsheba was not in an easy position, as the law and culture were both stacked against her. On the one hand, to lie with David means committing adultery. On the other hand, not lying with him means refusing the king. Both courses of action were punishable by death.
Ruth is the third woman named in the lineage of Jesus recorded in Matthew 1. Her story, told in the Old Testament Book of Ruth, is a familiar one to many of us, a drama in four acts.
Rahab is commonly referred to as “Rahab the Prostitute”. This nickname limits our understanding of who she was. Rahab plays the savior to Israel by protecting the spies, declaring their victory, and enabling God’s plan to move forward; and she foreshadows the coming Savior, Jesus, who will be one of her own descendants.
Tamar passes from the scene, but her impact continues…the woman who transformed the history of the kingdom of Judah also transformed Judah himself