Advent, and the same old lies about Mary are slipping over pulpits and out of parish letters, Christmas cards, public prayers, TV holiday movies, and late-night comics’ jokes. The subjugation of Mary, the maligning of her as meek, mild, and mindless, has been harmful to millions of women over many centuries. Hiding within the wonder of Christmas are a thousand years of doctrinal female subjugation, doctrines that, like tinsel, are dripped all over the season of Christmas. In the midst of the celebration of Wonderful Life, these malicious ideas keep women from feeling empowered, invited to be strong, and urged by God to imagine new ways to live, as Mary of Nazareth did, who mothered God’s redemption of the human world. Luke’s is the only gospel in which Mary’s story appears, and in his account, there is nothing submissive nor immature about her. According to Luke, the Angel approached her with words of great honour: Hail Mary, full of grace. Many artists paint the angel kneeling, in recognition of the honour given to her. The angel is explicit; the honour is for the grace that is distinctly hers. This is a courtship scene. the angel is wooing her, on bended knee, a suitor – not a constable bringing a decree. It is Mary’s grace that has attracted God’s attention. And what is this grace? It is what Luke shows us in her conversation and her actions – courage, boldness, grit, ringing convictions about justice. Not submissive meekness. Grace is not submission. And the power of God is never meek. Her recitation of the Magnificat is a political manifesto, delivered fairly publicly, in the home of an official temple priest, who is married to her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant, with John the Baptist. In Mary’s manifesto there is evidence of deep thought, strong conviction, and a good deal of political savvy. None of this accords with the idea that she is a young teenage girl. The Greek word Luke uses for virgin is an unusual one, a very specific word that means she has not yet born a child. Its precise meaning does not indicate sexual innocence.
Mary, wanted by God, according to the angel, for her bold, independent, adventuresome spirit, decides to bear a holy child – for a bold agenda: to bring the mighty down from their thrones; to scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts, to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away. This is Mary: well-spoken, wise, gritty. Traveling alone, like every prophet before her, she sets out on her first journey, to her cousin Elizabeth’s house, to declare her agenda. There will be more journeys: to Bethlehem; to Egypt and back; to Jerusalem when Jesus is twelve; to Jerusalem when he is crucified. She gives birth in a barn, lies down animals, and welcomes weathered shepherds in the middle of the night. She is determined, not domestic; free, not foolish; holy, not helpless; strong, not submissive. She beckons women everywhere to speak out for God’s justice, which is waiting to be born into this world. We are all called to be mothers of God – for God is always waiting to be born. – Meister Eckart, 13th c. German mystic.
This month sees not only Advent but a General Election, I am shocked at the number of thoughtful people who are conflicted about who they are going to vote for. In my Advent Sunday sermon I suggested that what was far more important than whether we’re a Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat or a member of the Raving Monster Loony Party is whether the party you are supporting is actually espousing the teachings of Jesus and loving everyone around us, or are merely self-seeking , egocentric, vote grabbers.
I suggested that when Christians love political power more than people, followers of Christ rationalise the withdrawing aid from the poor because it “reduces financial waste,” making cuts to education under the platform of “budget reallocations, and allowing misogynistic, sexist, racist, homophobic and xenophobic rhetoric to permeate a country all because it benefits a political party and “is ultimately for the greater good.”
Pray that the Holy Spirit will enable you to make a process of discernment during this election time.
Our preparations for the coming of Jesus are well under way, the highlight, with the exception of the Feast of the Incarnation itself, will be our Service of Nine Lessons and carols on the 15th at 6:00pm. One of the truly great services of our year. I hope you will join us and bring all your friends and neighbours.
May I take this opportunity of wishing you a very happy and blessed Christmas
Some words of Saint Mother Teresa: ‘When you look at a crucifix you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Eucharist you understand how much Jesus loves you now!’