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.
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.”
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!
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